If you’re an introvert, you’ll understand the dread that comes from an invitation to a networking event. Awkward conversation, intimidating groups, and the dominating chatter of extroverts – an introverted person’s worst nightmare. If you find yourself sticking to the corners of the room, clinging to previous connections, or counting down the minutes until you get to go home, this guide is for you.
What Is the Difference Between an Introvert and a Shy Person?
Whilst being shy is a personal barrier people face in their desires to be involved in social events, introverts simply prefer their own company, or the meaningful connections made through small-group interaction. Shy people might be longing to join the party, whereas introverts love nothing more than to spend a Friday night with a good book and a glass of wine at home.
It is important to realise therefore, that introversion is in no way a limitation. Despite networking events largely being made to suit the extroverted personality type, there is no reason why introverts can’t make strong business connections whilst continuing to be themselves!
Below, we offer tips to make these events work for you, as well as alternative networking strategies you can use to bypass the dreaded events all together!
Use your Introversion to Your Advantage
Whilst extroverted people tend to enter these events guns blazing, talking the ear off anyone they can corner, introverts tend to be far better listeners, with the patience to make serious connections. People tend to prefer those they deem to have actually listened to them, rather than waited to speak – and this is where the introvert makes a quiet but powerful impact.
Give Yourself Space to Recharge
Introverted people get drained by social experiences, whilst extroverted people gain energy. For this reason, it is important to ensure you have maximised your energy levels before the event by spending the evening prior alone or with select close friends. Equally, set aside downtime the day after your event to properly process and recover from the social exertion.
Find the “Introverts’ Corner”
A huge proportion of people experience the same social aversion as you, and you’ll find them represented at any event. They may be skulking round the snacks table, chilling in a corner or sat outside. Bonding over a mutual distaste for the occasion can be a great way to connect, such as by commenting “don’t you hate these events?” to the woman having a breather outside. If you can get chatting to a couple of people away from the action, you’ll feel far more comfortable and can then round up any other stragglers that come your way.
There’s nothing worse than arriving at a social event to a room full of people who have already broken off into impenetrable groups. The temptation to skip the awkward early stage of any event can be strong, but force yourself to come early, where there’ll be fewer people and more opportunity to relax, get comfortable and get chatting to the right people.
This is where you can really strategize. Come up with a few simple and effective one-liners to get the conversation flowing and encourage someone to start talking about themselves. You can say, “so, what do you do?”, but even better is to ask something slightly unexpected and curiosity-inducing. For example, you could say, “what would be the best thing you could hope to get out of today?” Don’t over-think, however. A firm handshake and a simple introduction are all that is needed to get the conversation flowing.
Make Yourself Look Approachable
Imagine how gratifying it would be if someone was standing alone and holding a sign that said, “approach me!” You wouldn’t be thinking, “oh how sad, they’re all alone”, you’d be thinking, “phew, this person will speak to me!” Put your phone away, change your body language and embrace the raging discomfort of standing alone for a minute or two – you’ll likely be snapped up by someone in seconds. Alternatively, wear something that would make an easy conversation starter – such as a charity pin or quirky brooch. People jump on small visual talking-points to get a conversation started.
Enlist an Acquaintance
Psychologically, everything feels easier when you have someone to do it with. Even if it is a new colleague, a casual acquaintance or a volunteer at the event! Ask them to accompany you as you approach someone, or quiz them on who they know. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for an introduction, particularly if they have strong connections already. Finish up a conversation by saying, “I must talk to some more people, do you know anyone I should speak to? Would you mind introducing us?”
Connect Online Before the Event
If you really are going into the event with no contacts, see if you can find someone that is going beforehand online, and don’t be afraid reach out. Mention that you’ll be at the event and that you would love to connect when there. They may then notice you as you arrive and encourage you to join them for a chat. Now imagine you did this to twenty people beforehand!
Prioritise Who You Want to Meet
If you really find networking draining, there’s no point in forcing yourself to speak to dozens of people that don’t have anything to offer you. Figure out exactly who it is that you want to speak to and plan how you’ll approach them. If you exchange details with two people that you really wanted to speak to, that is a success, and you can gladly make your getaway.
Follow up with a One-on-One
Most introverts thrive better in one-on-one scenarios, particularly in a setting they’re used to – such as a coffee shop or by email. Make your priority at a networking event simply the exchange of details therefore, to reconnect at a better time. Follow up the next day with a personalised and up-beat email and invite them to a chat on your terms.
Do Your Networking Online!
Most networking takes place online these days, via websites like LinkedIn, and that is a win for introverts! From the comfort of your home, strategize your networking carefully, crafting open, friendly, and interesting messages to key individuals you want to reach out to. The more you drop people a DM, the most natural it will feel, and gradually your confidence will build up. Messages are great, because they save time and give you the opportunity to really think through what you want to say.
Ultimately, introversion is by no means a barrier to making meaningful business connections, it simply takes strategy and a plan of action to make stressful in-person events work for you. Be honest with others, encourage them to meet you in situations that suit you and embrace the power of LinkedIn to connect from the comfort of your home. You’ve got this! 👊