We all know an introvert or two, and sometimes the person may not be an introvert, they may not want to be bothered! However, if you find that you fall under the Introvert category, let’s see if these helpful tips will help you get out and network – without fear of being judged.
- Figure out what you do not like about networking
This may seem like a weird way to start things off, but it makes sense if you think about it. But when you understand what bothers you about something, then you can develop strategies to deal with the specific parts you don’t like.
Many people often tell themselves, “I dislike networking with people and starting conversations.” It’s more helpful to ask yourself: “What in particular do I dislike about it?”
If you reflect on your experiences, you may discover that what you dislike is the feeling of walking into a room of strangers and not knowing where to start. Or you may realize that you hate trying to start a conversation with someone you don’t know because you feel awkward and don’t know what to say. Or you may feel like everyone there is promoting themselves and isn’t interested in others except for what the other person can do for them. Or you may dread getting stuck in a conversation with a talkative person and not knowing how to get away from them.
If any or all of these are reasons you dislike networking, there are ways to deal with each one. Here are some ideas:
- Have a plan for every networking event.
If your plan is to “meet lots of people,” you’re almost sure to feel overwhelmed and unsure about how to proceed. But what if your plan is to introduce myself to at least five people, learn the basics of what they do and what they’re interested in, and get business cards from at least 4 of them? Following that plan, you can pick out five people, one at a time, and introduce yourself to them. That’s not quite so overwhelming, is it?
- Set modest goals.
Meeting five people is a modest goal for most networking events, and yet it can be enough. The ambitious goals that cause problems are when we think we must talk with 15 people and find at least three prospective clients to follow-up with. Take the pressure off yourself by setting expectations you can meet and succeed with.
- Find an ally.
Walking into a room of total strangers can be intimidating for all but the most gregarious of extroverts, so try to find someone you know to go with you. Or find someone at the event that you know and talk with them first. Ask that person to introduce you to anyone that they know. Do the same for them. Suddenly the room isn’t quite so full of strangers.
- Plan your conversation starter topics in advance.
The best way to avoid awkward dead-end conversations about the weather or their favorite sports team is to plan a few other ways to start. Here are a few to consider:
“This is my first time here. What about you? How did you learn about this group?”
“You look familiar. Tell me a little about yourself. I’m wondering if we may have met before?”
“What do you do? How did you get into that kind of work?”
“I’m always interested in where people are from? Where did you live before you moved here, and what brought you to this area?”
“I’m also interested in people’s names. What do you know about your name and where it came from?”
These are ideas to get you started. Notice that they each give the conversation somewhere to go beyond a one-word answer. They’re also topics that you can talk about after they’ve responded to your question. From there you can leapfrog to other topics.
- Focus on being interested, not interesting.
Sometimes we put undue pressure on ourselves to be interesting or charming or even impressive. Let all that go and be interested in getting to know other people. That will make you far more interesting to them than if you try to promote yourself.
- Ask for their card rather than pushing your card on them.
The business card exchange can feel awkward, and the easiest way around it is to ask if they have a card. But wait until you’ve established some rapport before asking. In most cases, they will probably ask for yours in return. If not, you can still offer it or directly follow-up afterward with a phone call or note.
- Be curious.
If you cultivate an attitude of curiosity, you’ll find that you never run out of things to ask and talk about it. Don’t interrogate people, but if you genuinely want to know more about someone, they will feel your interest and respond positively.
- Act like a host.
If you don’t know what else to do, make a point of putting others at ease. Introduce yourself and introduce them to others. Seek out other introverts who are standing by themselves. If you focus on putting people at ease, you will find the time goes much faster, and you will enjoy it more. Besides, if you’re a host, you don’t need to talk to anyone too long. Want a way to extricate yourself from someone? Tell them you’ve enjoyed talking with them and hope to see them again soon. There’s someone you’ve wanted to catch up with, so you’ll see them later.
- Do not compare yourself to others.
If you realize you are comparing yourself to others by thinking how much more exciting or outgoing they look, stop. Remind yourself that you are a unique person who brings a particular set of gifts and talents to the table.
- Make it into a game.
If you can turn networking into a game instead of a severe life-and-death endeavor, you’ll find it more comfortable. Decide that you’re going to try to find two people with the same first name or two people who went to an Ivy League school. Or tell people you’d like to hear one of their favorite jokes because you’re collecting them. Don’t be so crazy that people think you’re weird. And don’t tell people what your game is unless you want to. But if you play a game, even if nobody else knows, you might be able to relax and enjoy it.