I have mentioned several times before that I am an introvert, and that I think that introvert characteristics need to be embraced rather than quashed. If you are an introvert (click here to read my piece on signs that you may be) then the very word “networking” might send shivers down your spine.
To us introverts networking events are not necessarily scary, but they are very often stressful and exhausting. Putting a face on, engaging people in chat, listening to people for hours on end.
But we have to do it. Whether we own our own business, or we are looking to move forwards in our paid employment, networking is part of the package. And I am here to say, hand on my introverted heart, it doesn’t have to be all that awful.
Here are my 5 tips on networking for introverts:
1. Face your “what if” demons
Part of the stress of networking for introverts is the lead-up to the event itself. We imagine the worst that can happen. What if I blush when the attention is on me? What if I trip over my words? What if I say something stupid? What if, what if, what if?
A day or so before the event sit down for an hour, some place quiet, and work through your what ifs.
Go through your worst case scenarios, face up to them. What if I trip over my words? Well, what if I do? What is the worst that can happen? Are people really going to think badly of me? Do I think badly of people who trip over their words occasionally? Work through all the worst case scenarios.
Then flip them.
What if I don’t blush? What if all my words come out with clarity and confidence? What if everything I say is witty and awesome? What if this event goes as best as it possibly can? What will that look like?
In reality, the event will likely fall somewhere between worst case scenario and best case scenario. But working through these beforehand will give you greater confidence. And you know what? If it is a total car crash you will, one day, look back and laugh, and dine out on the anecdotes for years.
A bit of perspective – this is just a networking evening.
2. Put in the research
This is further preparation you can do, partly, before the event. Find out who is going. Find out what you can about them. I don’t mean obsessively follow their tweets and find out their middle names, but just get an idea of who to expect. Is there anyone in particular you would like to meet? Is there anyone that you have something in common with? Is there a potential mentor? Potential business partner?
Often events have Linked In or Facebook pages where you can see who has been invited and who is attending an event. You can have a look at the lists and put names to faces and get to know them.
You can even reach out to someone right now and say, “Hey, I saw you are going to this event, I would love to meet up with you there and pick your brains about…” and boom, you have a friendly face waiting for you.
3. Make an escape plan
We find noisy events full of people, especially strangers, wearing and draining. When you arrive at the event work out where the loos are, where the quieter areas are, where the buffet table is. There will be times during the event that you will want to take a moment. Sussing out ways of doing that from the very off will reassure you and help you relax.
Similarly, remember you do not have to stay for the whole event. You can have other plans to go on to (even if those plans involve snuggling up on the sofa with a box set and a giant packet of Pringles). Just because it is an all day event doesn’t mean you have to stay all day. Keep that at the back of your mind. No, don’t use it as an excuse to leg it after 15 minutes, but once you are done, you are done. You can go.
I know we are made to feel silly right from childhood for not wanting to get stuck right in, but we need that time to observe, to hang out on the sidelines and people watch for a short while. And it is OK to do so, as long as we don’t wait on the sidelines all evening!
Instead of standing there wondering when someone will talk to you, stand there wondering who you will approach first. Have you spotted someone whose work you admire? Is someone wearing a particularly interesting statement necklace or earrings? Is that person over there a former colleague?
Look out for other people like you. It is easy, oh so easy, to think that we are the only ones who find these events awkward. We aren’t. You would not believe the number of people who get in touch with me after my pieces on introverts. There are so many of us. Imagine that you are the person to make one of us feel at ease.
Networking is a skill. Some of us might find it harder than others, but always remember it is something we can learn, and improve upon. So at the end of the event sit down with your notebook and jot down your thoughts. Focus on the positives, and turn the negatives into a learning experience.
Next time it will be easier. That is a given. What can you learn from this event to make next time even easier still? What did you enjoy about the event? Who are you going to follow up with? What about the easily measurable things? How many people did you initiate conversation with? Was that an improvement? When are you going to follow up with them (do it soon, within a week, ten days tops)?
Go back to your what ifs. Where were you on the scale from worst to best scenario?
At what points during the event did you feel great? What made that happen?
Did anything go wrong? Write it down and chalk it down to experience. It’s OK, it will have been a much bigger deal for you than anyone who may have witnessed it.
Come on, make a commitment. We’re not going to avoid another networking event. Schedule in your next event and come and give me a high 5 by email, Skype or PM. Then let me know how it goes. If you would like me to coach you through your networking, you know where to find me, just book a free discovery call to chat about how we can make networking easier for you.
Come and join The Mindset Hub if you would like more support in an informal group setting.