Whether you run your own business or you just want to get ahead in your career, chances are at some point you’ll have to go to networking events. If like me, you are an introvert you might find the idea of networking terrifying and as a result not go – therefore missing out on many potential opportunities.
For me, networking seems like such a bizarre concept and one that makes me feel very uncomfortable. You get thrown into a room with a bunch of strangers who all look like they’ve known each other forever and are deeply engrossed in conversation. Your task is to wade in and infiltrate said conversations seeming confident, happy and interesting enough that these people won’t mind your interruption. Then, if you get this far you have to sell yourself and hopefully drum up some new business. Feeling the pressure yet?
As an introvert these types of situations are completely out of my comfort zone and that’s true of many introverted people. We much prefer introductions where quiet, thoughtful conversations can take place – not ones where we feel we have to bulldoze our way into talking to people! But networking can be incredibly beneficial and give you a chance to speak with people you might never have otherwise come into contact with so – this is my quick guide to networking for introverts.
Change your perceptions of networking
The description I gave above describing networking doesn’t paint a great picture does it? But how about if I told you networking events were a place where you could get the opportunity to chat with like-minded business folk in a relaxed atmosphere? That doesn’t sound too shabby does it? Modern networking events are usually very informal, and attended by lots of very lovely and welcoming people. On entering a networking event, it can feel intimidating with a room full of people chatting away to each other – but instead of thinking “oh no! No one will want to talk to me!” assume people would love to have the chance to hear what you have to say and more importantly love to tell you about their business. Changing your perceptions of what a networking event will be like can really help you feel more positive about attending.
Pick your events carefully
Many networking events happen in the evening, which for introverts is the worst time of day. For introverts, socialising can be really draining and attempting to do this after a full day’s work can just feel too much. After a hard day’s work, the last thing I want to do is socialise – especially where that socialising involves me pitching my business and coming across as being interesting and charismatic! If you struggle with evening events, try a breakfast networking meeting. That way you’ll be meeting people on top form rather than simply mustering up all of the energy you can find to just be there!
One of the hardest things when it comes to networking for introverts is breaking into conversation. Yet we also are hyper aware that standing in the corner waiting for someone to talk to us really isn’t very likely! I used to get really anxious about this – until I realised that most people are very accommodating and by simply asking “Would you mind if I join your conversation?” most people will be very welcoming. To ensure you don’t feel like you’ve just barged in on a conversation – show respect to the group by asking what they were previously discussing or jump in with a question about them.
Reading the room
Introverts are constantly aware of how other people are thinking and feeling, this means if we interrupt a conversation and are greeted with slight hostility or resentment that we’d broken up an engaging conversation – we are likely to pick up on this immediately. Not only this, but we’ll feel terrible for doing so and it will make us reluctant to “interrupt” another conversation. This is unfortunately a bit of an occupational hazard of networking events – but there are some ways of avoiding it. Try scanning the room looking at people’s body language – do they look like they know each other? Are they often looking away from the conversation – seeing who else is about? Try and take notice of these small things before joining a conversation – after doing this a few times you’ll start to notice who will be more approachable.
People love to talk about themselves – so ask lots of questions. If you are the type of introvert who is a man or woman of few words – then this will help to keep the conversation flowing. Ensure you really listen to what the other person is saying and ask questions around their answers. Being genuinely interested in others is a very likeable quality and they’ll sure to be thinking “ooh I liked them!”
Fake it until you make it
Entering a loud and busy networking environment isn’t an easy task for most introverts. Their palms will be sweaty, their mouths dry and they’ll be wishing they were back in the office with the door firmly shut. So sometimes a good strategy if you are feeling anxious or out of your comfort zone is to fake confidence. I used to regularly deliver training to groups of business folk and every time my stomach was in knots. So I’d start out exuding fake confidence – smiles, questions and my best (but fake) confident speaking voice. I felt like I was in a play, pretending to be someone else! Yet after 20 minutes – that fake confidence became real. Often all it takes is a little push and pretending to feel something can actually lead to the real thing!
Focus on quality rather than quantity
When attending a networking event you can often feel like you need to be meeting lots of people and getting lots of business cards. Realistically in a few hours this is quite hard to do – so instead of focusing on how many conversations you have, focus on the quality of conversation. Try and leave having had one really good conversation. Don’t be afraid to break away from conversations that aren’t leading anywhere or aren’t interesting you. Be polite, take a card and say “It’s been great chatting with you. I’m going to try and speak with a few other people now.” This takes guts – but remember – it’s networking! It’s what people expect.
Don’t be disheartened
Us introverts can often take things to heart. We put a lot of energy into attending these events and when they aren’t very good, or we don’t have any decent conversations we can often leave thinking it was our fault and that if only we were charismatic, exuberant extroverts everything would have been so much better! It’s a simple fact of life that some events we meet interesting people and some events we don’t. This has nothing to do with our personality or how we came across. All it takes for an event to be successful is one interesting conversation where someone is interested in you or business – but a lot of that is down to the right time and the right place. So if you have a networking event that doesn’t lead to much then don’t worry – simply see it as practice for the next event and remember – the more you network the easier it becomes because it starts to become your comfort zone.
Do you love or hate networking? What tips or tricks have you used that have been successful for getting the most out of a networking event?
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