The Introvert’s Guide to Networking

by: Shannon McNay

Sweaty palms. Racing heart. The sudden desire to be anywhere but where I am right at this moment. A secondary desire to examine that interesting mark on the wall over there…

This is how I feel when I’m in a group setting at which I know no one. I look at all the clusters of people talking to each other, so content and at ease. I watch people stride from group to group, confidently inserting themselves into new conversations. And I wonder:

Why the hell can’t I do that?

It looks so simple! But when I try to think of what I would say when doing the same, I draw a big, fat blank.

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of birds chirping…

*Sigh* Is there anything worse than being in this situation? When the comfort of home seems so dear? When knowing just one person feels like salvation? When you shove food in your mouth just to look like you’re doing something other than creepily staring around the room?

This is what it feels like to network if you’re an introvert – or sometimes even if you’re an ambivert (like me). This is when I curse myself for being so extrovert-like all the time except for when I need those qualities the most. (Ie any event at which there are large groups of people unknown to me.)

The even bigger cruelty? The fact that many of us creatives, freelancers, and entrepreneurs tend to be introverts or ambiverts. And the fact that we need to get out and make connections if we want our businesses and careers to thrive.

So how can we reconcile our intense desire to avoid large groups of unknown people with our need to meet new people to reach success? We invent our own networking guidelines, that’s how. Let’s get started.

Look Beyond Stereotypes

It’s not easy living in an extrovert’s world. For years, extroverts have been perceived as more “normal”, powerful, and likable.

Of course, this is just stereotyping. Extroverts and introverts are not all the stereotypes that society has made of them. And they’re not always what they seem.

For example, if you met me, you would assume right off the bat that I’m an extrovert. And you’d be half right! I have more energy when I’m around people. I can be outgoing. And there are times when I’m even the life of the party. BUT, this is what happens when I know the people I’m around.

When I’m in a new group of people, I become intensely shy. I have no idea what to say. I become self-conscious about my words and behavior. And I generally want to get the heck out of dodge.

On the flip side, I know introverts that are far more engaging, witty, and outgoing than I am. The only reason I know that they are introverts is because they need a great deal of alone time to decompress. The point is, you can’t always spot an extrovert just because someone’s the liveliest person in the room. Remove the stereotypes when you view others so you can prevent yourself from doing the very thing you don’t want done to you.

Learn the Way Extroverts Communicate

When you enter into a room full of gregarious people brimming with gusto, don’t hug the wall just because you’re not the same way. While the thought of “mingling” is terrifying to you, the fact that it’s not that way for extroverts give you an upper hand.

People who are shy are in part scared of mingling because they don’t know what to do or say. People who are outgoing don’t put that much thought into it. They follow their instinct to walk up to someone and say hello. It’s that simple.

When you realize how simple it is for them, then you can understand how simple it is for you. They’re not going to over-think what you say, so why should you?

In this instance, it pays to think like an extrovert. Remember, all you have to do is say hello.

Turn Networking Into a Skill – Not a Personality Trait

It’s so easy to ignore networking because we view it as a personality trait we’ll never have. We think, “Why even try? I might as well just avoid networking for the rest of my life and everyone will be happy.”

Don’t do that. You’re robbing yourself of the opportunity to grow your network (and your business). And you’re robbing other people of meeting you!

Networking is a skill. You can learn it just like any other skill. Think about it this way: if you’re a designer, then you likely never studied accounting or business. But if you’re a freelance designer, you’ve had to learn how to do your books, send invoices, and keep your business alive. Maybe you were born with these skills, maybe you weren’t. But if you weren’t, you learned them. Why? Because you had to.

If you’re going to run a business, you have to learn to network. The beauty is, it’s super easy to learn. Here’s what you to do when you want to meet someone:

  1. Smile
  2. Say hello
  3. Say your name and ask the person about him or herself

I know it sounds trite. But it really is that easy. When you’re at an event and don’t know how to break the ice, all you have to do is remember these key points about human nature:

  1. People like friendly people
  2. People love to talk about themselves

So combine the three steps with these two principles and you have your networking formula:

To break the ice at an event, walk up to someone with a smile on your face. Say hello. Tell the person your name. Ask them about themselves.

You don’t have to put one ounce of thought into what you should say about yourself. Just say your name and what you do. Then ask the person about him or herself. You’ll have at least a minute or more of that person talking and plenty of opportunities for conversation to develop from there.

Find Your Comfort Zone

If even this feels too intimidating to you, then start slow. Go to an event that’s completely focused on people like you. Back to the designer example, attend an event for designers and practice there. At least you’ll have something in common right off the bat.

Find Your People

If there’s one thing I hate the most about networking, it’s meeting people that only want to get something out of the conversation. People who aren’t interested in human connection and only want to tout their services to anyone who’ll listen. These interactions always leave me feeling gross. They make me want to go home faster than anything else (including embarrassing myself by not knowing what to say).

Because of that, I’ve gotten a bit more cutthroat about my networking. If I meet someone who’s disingenuous, I get out of the conversation as quickly as possible without being rude. If I meet someone I’m pretty sure I’ll never talk to again, I don’t exchange cards pretending like I will. I’m polite and, when it’s time, I move on. In those situations, the other person often feels the same way (so everyone walks away happier).

Trust Your Instincts

There’s a fine line between fear and a gut feeling that something isn’t right. Surpass your fear by practicing the formula bove. Then listen to your gut. If you’re at an event that you’re sure will be a waste of time, leave. Collecting experiences at the wrong type of events will only make you hate networking, avoid it, and miss out on the good events.

Trust your gut with people too. If you meet someone who’s being disingenuous, understand that it’s not a reflection on you. Don’t avoid all people because of the ones that aren’t great. And when you meet people that are sincere, return the favor of sincerity to them. That’s how you can go about networking in a way that makes you feel great, not gross.

Image Credit: xvire1969


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