Today’s post is a guest post from one of my coaching students, Jessica. I hope you find it helpful. Take it away Jessica!
Oh networking. The word itself is enough to make me feel a little anxious. I know certain people thrive in social situations and love meeting new people. I am not one of those people. I am very much an introvert, who prefers to spend my time doing solo activities or social activities in a small group with close friends. Like it or not, networking is a very important tool for everyone. For introverts, networking can sometimes feel like a necessary evil, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Editors note: I struggle with networking because I’m pretty introverted too.
When I was finishing up law school, I had just moved to Los Angeles and I knew no one in the legal field. I had a huge amount of student loan debt and it was absolutely imperative that I find someone to hire me once I passed the bar exam. As such, I was forced to attend networking events and put myself out there to meet people. In the process, I learned some tricks to make networking a little less painful for those, like myself, who aren’t naturally social.
Select Events Carefully
I quickly learned that the type of event really set the tone for what I could expect. Being an introvert, I tend to prefer smaller gatherings to large galas. At smaller events, people are usually able to chat easily with one another and build connections. Also, I usually don’t feel distracted by too much stimuli at the smaller events. Large events can be overwhelming due to the noise, crowded spaces and amount of people to potentially meet.
Aside from the size of event, the particular focus of the event is important to consider as well. It’s natural to feel more at ease at an event where you know you will have something in common with the other attendees. Great examples are alumni association events, fundraisers for your favorite charity, and industry specific conferences or meetings.
This may be a bit cheesy, but it really helps to practice what you will say at a networking event before arriving. Being prepared dramatically reduces feelings of anxiety. Knowing how you’re going to present yourself and thinking of some questions to ask the people you meet will help you feel less overwhelmed at the event.
Feel free to practice your “elevator speech” in the mirror until you feel confident. Memorize five or so questions to ask those you meet to help keep the conversation from feeling awkward. Things like: “How did you find your way to your current position” or “What is your favorite part of your job?” and “What do you find most challenging about your career path?” usually flow naturally in conversation and provide the opportunity for follow up comments as well.
Plan Day Accordingly
If you have enough advance notice for your networking event, it’s a great idea to plan your day with that in mind. Since socializing can feel draining for introverts, it’s important to reserve your energy. Doing so will help you be at your best when it’s time to be “on.”
If you’re attending a networking breakfast, prepare the night before by reviewing your elevator pitch and your questions as discussed above. It is also helpful to set out your clothes and other things you will need for the day in the evening so you won’t feel stressed in the morning. For evening events, try to schedule an easy day at work. If possible, avoid other meetings, high stress projects or deadlines, or anything else that tends to drain you. Remember, this planning intended to help reserve your energy so your tank will be full when you need it later.
Find Time Alone
Hand in hand with planning your day, it may be helpful for introverts to find some alone time in anticipation of a networking event. Personally, I find it beneficial to have a bit of quiet and calm before I go into an event. I like to just sit quietly in my car or listen to my favorite music before I enter the event, which helps me feel more relaxed and ready to interact with others.
Additionally, if I feel myself getting overwhelmed by the noise and crowds during the event, I will remove myself for just a minute or two. Usually, I try to find my way to the restroom or step outside for some fresh air. Doing so allows me to tune out most of the stimuli and recharge for a second wind, so to speak.
Set Small Expectations
One piece of advice about networking that I absolutely hate is to go into every event aiming to make connections with at least three people who can also connect you to three others. To an introvert, like me, this advice feels intimidating and overwhelming. It’s almost enough to make me want to eschew networking altogether.
Instead, I like to set smaller goals that feel attainable to me. I go into every networking event aiming to make just one contact. Yep, that’s right: one contact. In my mind, since networking sometimes feels intimidating to the point where I don’t want to do it at all, making one contact is better than none. It also dampens the anxiety I might experience beforehand, allowing me to feel more comfortable. This often results in making more connections than the single one I was aiming for going into the event.
Grab a Drink
This suggestion may be a bit controversial, but hear me out. If the event you are attending has a bar, go hit it up for some liquid courage. Even if you don’t drink alcohol, this tip can still work for you. When I go to networking events, I’m usually a bit nervous when I first arrive. The very first thing I do is head over to the bar. If there’s a line, it’s a good opportunity to observe the situation and get a feel for the event before diving in and making initial contact with other attendees.
Aside from that, I often find that a small glass of wine will help me feel more relaxed and a bit more talkative. This was especially true for an attorney improv event I attended. Everyone was a little uptight at first, but after a glass of wine we were willing to put ourselves out there and really embrace the exercises. I think everyone who attended had a great time and we made great connections because we overcame feeling uncomfortable together.
Additionally, having a drink gives you something to do with your hands so you aren’t tempted to fidget. Just be sure to hold it in your left hand so your right is free for a handshake. If you do drink alcohol, please be sure to limit your consumption so you don’t become intoxicated. That will not make a good impression!
Do you enjoy networking or does the thought of it make you cringe? Do you have any great tips to add?
Jessica is a freelance writer and attorney in Los Angeles, California. She writes about getting her finances in order and finding balance in life at Settle Your Finances.
35 responses to “6 Networking Tips for Introverts”
I am pretty outgoing – but not so much in a room FULL of people I don’t know. It’s hard for me to break out of my shell. Hubs and I are looking at ways to afford to send me to FinCon this year, and part of me is really excited and part of me dreads the networking and meeting people. And I don’t drink (won’t even head to the bar), so I don’t really have that last little bit to fall back on.
What has brought me the most success? Fake it til you make it! Go into the room and fake confidence, and if you start faltering THEN you have permission to run away. That’s never happened to me 😉
Kirsten, I completely agree about faking the confidence. It will be hard for the other person to tell the difference anyway. I am also excited/nervous about FinCon. If you happen to go, I would love to meet you there!
I’m very lucky to be a complete extrovert. However, I do know from other areas that practice is the best way to improve. The more comfortable you get, the easier and less painful it will be. It’s the best way to overcome this, I think.
Practice is the best way to improve. In law school, I remember practicing my argument for the moot court competition in the mirror until I felt confident enough to go in front of the judges. It worked then and it’s worked with networking too.
Great post, Jessica! I am introverted as well and definitely a bit of a wallflower. Events where I have to put myself out there really are exhausting. I find that a small glass of wine helps me to feel at ease as well! As cheesy as it may sound, joining a sorority in college helped break me out of my shell a bit and learn the basics of networking and effective small talk.
Thanks, Kristi! You make a good point about being able to make effective small talk. Simply knowing how to carry on a conversation without it being awkward will go a long way to making networking easier.
Oh look! It’s me! =)
I probably don’t seem like it, but I am very much an introvert. I love nothing more than to spend the entire day working by myself. People are always like, “don’t you get lonely?” And I’m like, “Nope, not at all!” I have never once missed interacting with others.
For some reason, I am able to switch the social side on when I need to. I think it goes back to my old job – a lot of small talk was involved and I did event planning.
Haha that’s great you work so well by yourself. To me, it seems like you have the best of both worlds since you can enjoy being alone but flip the switch when necessary. It sounds like the practice you had from your old job really helped with that.
I am definitely not introverted at all, but I can see how these types of events would be draining to those who are introverted.
Sometimes all of the people and noise can be a bit overwhelming, but it’s so important to get out there and meet people. I love finding extroverts at networking events because I find they are more at ease and can help keep the conversation going without it getting awkward.
Great tips! I’m an introvert and dread networking events. I like your advice about choosing events carefully and attending smaller gatherings when possible. Nothing freaks me out more than walking into a giant room full of groups of people. As for the liquid courage, it’s definitely a slippery slope for me. I tend to take sips when the conversation lulls or when I’m feeling uncomfortable, leading to an empty wine glass way too early in the evening!
Great tips! I’m also an introvert and truly hate networking. I find though that if I have a few business-related topics to speak about and feel comfortable discussing, I’m better able to enjoy myself. I always worry that the conversation will lag, so knowing how I can pick it up is so helpful!
I think one of my biggest fears going into a networking event is having one of those awkward conversations where everyone just wants to run away but can’t. Being prepared definitely helps.
Your advice is really strong for introverts. 🙂 “Socializing can feel draining for introverts.” You’re not kidding! I always need time to relax after a social event because I feel completely drained. I also tend to shut down mid-event if I don’t give myself a brief moment away to recoup. Sometimes even the bathroom isn’t safe — no, stranger I just met, I do not want to chat with you while you’re peeing!
Oh no, awkward small talk in the bathroom sounds like the worst! I’ve never had that happen, but it would definitely not help me recharge! The draining aspect of social interaction is one reason why I really try to prioritize a bit of relaxation beforehand. I usually find some alone time afterwards as well.
Nice post, Jessica. I’m not really introverted, but I do find it difficult to just walk up and start talking to someone I don’t know in a networking situation. I think memorizing some questions to ask ahead of time is really helpful.
I’ll be going to FinCon for the first time this year, and won’t know many people, so there will be plenty of opportunities to network. Hope to see you there!
I do plan on attending FinCon for the first time this year as well! I think it will be the first event where I will feel like I actually know some people even though I’ve never actually met anyone in person. I’m interested to see if I find networking to be a little easier there. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to meet you!
I use a website called meetup dot com to meet new people. BTW – I’m NOT affiliated with them. The website allows people to create groups based on interests and then schedule events. Some of my interests are investing, hiking, technology, etc. The meetups are hit or miss depending on how organized the group leaders are. You can read the group reviews before attending an event. I’ve also heard it’s a way to drive traffic to your website.
Loved this! I am such an introvert in disguise. Most people think I’m pretty outgoing, but there’s nothing I love more than being by myself. Lol! These tips are spot on 🙂
Being an introvert in disguise is awesome! I can be quite outgoing with someone I know, but I am more reserved when meeting people for the first time. The fact that I would much rather spend my time alone is what makes networking hard for me.
Great networking tips, it’s nice to hear your story!
Talking to people in person comes naturally to me. Though, it can be overwhelming at times especially at large events.
Funny about hitting the bar. One of the things that irks me at networking events is when some people pass out their business cards and flyers randomly without you even knowing them. I’ve literally been talking to someone and a random person comes up and hands me a business card or flyer then leaves to pass them out to other people. Kind of crazy!
More and more, I find myself becoming more of an introvert! 🙂
Woah, that’s crazy that someone would just pass out business cards and flyers without making a connection first! I’ve never noticed anyone doing that and I would definitely be put off if I did. Who knows though, maybe the people who do that are extreme introverts who really want to avoid talking to people…
I enjoy meeting people. Last Saturday, I was invited for networking. When I was at the venue, I didn’t put pressure on myself. I just had fun and met some new friends. I was lucky to have made two contacts. Sometimes, you just let yourselves be open and embrace the situation you are in. Learn and have fun!
Absolutely! I really like the way you approach networking as having fun and meeting people. I think it really helps to take away from the pressure some may feel to make contacts for business purposes. Not only that, but the connections are likely to be more genuine that way.
I am also an introvert, I get really nervous when I have to speak up about something. My job has helped a lot as I have to talk to people/patients daily. I have also been going to meetings more which I am forced to speak up about my patients and often have to defend the need for further treatment for my patients and also speak about the program I run and the importance of it. Each time though I feel sick to my stomach, I hate that I get so nervous. It has gotten a little easier, but not much. Kristen hit it spot on, you really do have to fake it till you make it.
I have to advocate on behalf of others on a daily basis and I know it has forced me to interact with people quite a bit. I think the practice from work has really helped me be more comfortable speaking to others in networking situations as well. It does get easier with practice. Until then, I agree that it works to just fake it!
I am an introvert as well but I’m getting better at networking and just putting myself out there. I often keep my expectations low or go into the situation being very open minded and I always find someone to strike up a conversation and connect with. So I’ve definitely let that fear and anxiousness go because it always turns out fine.
I love your point to remember you’ve been successful in the past to help let go of the fear and anxiety. I have always been able to have a nice conversation with people and make connections. I’ve never had a super awkward experience that I often fear going in to the event. I will definitely remind myself of that next time I attend a networking event. Thanks!
I’m an introvert so I definitely have struggled with networking at times. I’m much better at one-on-one scenarios versus large groups, and honestly my day job drains most of my “extrovert” energy so I rarely have the energy to go to a networking event after work. These are good tips, though, and honesty I think having a drink can really help (as terrible as that sounds!).
lol as I was reading, before I got to the last tip I kept thinking, “and drink wine.” 🙂 I think everything you said is very true coming form a fellow introvert. I need to have lots of quiet alone time before a big event to save up my energy. Are you going to fincon? That’s a tough one because you really do want to meet everyone, but whew is it tiring!
I am a huge introvert; even reading this post made me nervous, lol 🙂 These are definitely good tips, especially having some time to yourself before the big event! The calm before the storm 🙂
These are actually really great tips! I totally used to dread networking, too–mostly because I had no idea “how” to do it. But this year I started attending American Marketing Association networking luncheons, and they sort of guide the networking conversation, and it’s great! I learned how to do it, and make meaningful connections–and more importantly, I’m totally bought into the importance of it, now.
The glass of wine is KEY for me! Thanks for these tips!
Those are great tips! I’m an introvert by nature. I love to be home, with my family in my comfort zone. I however have learned to force myself to get out there when need be. You know what they say, “fake it till you make it”.