You have a secret. Despite the professional success you’ve achieved, you’re concerned you might not reach the next level. You’re an introvert—and, in your mind at least, that could prevent you from being effective at networking and building professional contacts.
Of course, there’s a lot of literature devoted to helping introverts in the workplace. The American Management Association suggests following the 4 P’s:
- Preparation: Devise a game plan.
- Presence: Focus on the moment.
- Push: Stretch and grow.
- Practice: Rehearse and refine new skills.
But networking isn’t the same as your day-in and day-out workday interactions. For many introverts, it takes more energy to communicate with strangers compared to people they’re already familiar with, like a group of coworkers. At networking events, there’s a lot of new information to process and remember, especially if you’re in a new setting, like a conference.
How to Network Effectively as an Introvert
1. Gain perspective.
You’re not on stage in a lavish opening-night production. Your capabilities, intelligence, and judgment led you to this point. Those same qualities will help you join the mix.
2. Leverage a home-field advantage.
Focus on topics where you’re an expert, and stay away from conversations that aren’t in your sweet spot. This simple step will help you feel instantly more confident and build in opportunities for you to speak. Exercise discretion when you’re choosing a venue, too. Dorie Clark, a marketing strategist and instructor at the Fuqua School of Business, suggests avoiding boozy harbor cruises and swanky after-parties.
“Instead, I’m increasingly trying to control my networking environment by creating my own events,” she says. She brings together interest groups among colleagues and hosts dinner parties, which are more personable and introvert-friendly than regional or city-wide networking events.
3. Become a listening networker.
You also have another advantage: introverts are great listeners. If this applies to you, leverage that skill and focus on drawing people out into a conversation. To get someone invested in a dialogue, ask them questions and listen to what they are saying—most people are happy to share their experiences.
Ryan Paugh, COO of The Community Company, writes in Fast Company about the importance of reading between the lines during networking events. “Sometimes, the person you are talking to doesn’t know you can help them—and it’s on you to figure that out.”
Once you identify common ground, you’ll have a stronger hold on the conversation. When you’re comfortable and the other person finishes making their point, respond to what they’ve said by pointing out ways that you could contribute to their goals. This might include sharing an article, bouncing ideas off each other, or offering to review a proposal for them. People look for reciprocity in their relationships, so try to outline an action point that will carry you past an initial interaction.
4. Use a digital “pre-handshake.”
Lisa Petrilli, Chief Executive Officer of C-Level Strategies, Inc., explains that “pre-introductions” can result in a more relaxed and productive in-person connection. “By reaching out,” she says, “You open the door to potentially rewarding business collaborations, and you do so on your own terms.”
If you know the names of the people who will attend an upcoming networking event, take some time to research their professional background. Do they publish articles or share content online? You can use this information to reach out on LinkedIn, Twitter, or via email. Let them know you’re familiar with their work and look forward to meeting them at the event.
5. Don’t fight your introverted disposition.
Embrace your introversion and the wealth of wonderful ideas that come with your reflective nature. Shape those ideas and the implications that grow out of them. Organize your thinking around those topics because they make you who you are. And then go out and confidently command each conversation in which you choose to engage.
6. Keep it short and sweet.
Meet. Introduce yourself. Share from your strength. Shake hands. Then ring up the experience as a positive and move on to the next person.
Keep your interactions productive and abbreviated to retain your energy. Have short conversations with lots of people, and then follow up later. This will help you feel less drained by the end of each interaction.
7. Assess and rate your ROI.
Like any business strategy, there needs to be a sufficient return on your investment (ROI) to make the activity worthwhile. Networking is no exception. With some events, the experience will come with a steep cost: you may feel emotionally exhausted for hours or even days afterward. That doesn’t mean the event won’t be worth the expense—but choose wisely and stagger social commitments to give yourself time to recover.
8. Kill your role-playing instincts.
In some ways, introverts can be even more effective at networking than extroverts. “When it comes to making connections, introverts may have the upper hand,” argues Karen Wickre, author of “Taking the Work Out of Networking: An Introvert’s Guide to Connections That Count.” “You don’t have to change who you are or concoct a phony-feeling persona to meet people easily.”
This attitude leads to genuine connections that tend to last longer and develop more emotional depth. While an extrovert might make a bigger splash, the impressions they create can also be fleeting—which might not translate into any tangible advantage in the professional landscape.
9. Recognize that you have something to contribute.
Just because you’re quiet doesn’t mean you don’t have something to say. Your thoughts and observations are the essence of who you are. Sharing your ideas, even if only once in a while, will make others feel energized by your passion. With the right approach, you can make an impression that extends beyond the limits of just one networking event or conference.
There’s a whole world of introverts out there who approach networking as an enjoyable opportunity. It becomes far less daunting if you put these strategies into practice.
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