Naturally, introverts have a tougher time when networking professionally. They may struggle to build rapport with new connections, and lack the motivation to even attend networking events.
Although introverts have a reputation of being content in their own company, they often harbour the desire to be able to more easily connect with others.
Whether a confirmed introvert through personality tests, or someone who just suspects that they lean towards the side of introversion, there are numerous ways of making the professional networking experience a less painful one.
Networking preparation is key
As an introvert, there is probably nothing more nerve-wracking than being put on the spot. Preparing some simple questions to ask people at networking events will help you feel more ready for all eventualities, and should calm your nerves.
If small talk doesn’t quite come naturally to you, Debut offers up a whole host of potential conversation starters. The trick is to keep things as light as possible at first, instead of jumping off with deep or technical questions.
Asking simple things such as how somebody got to hear about the event, or where they are from, are great starting points. This gives you a platform to begin feeling more comfortable before you tackle conversation about the hot topics within the industry.
It can be a useful idea, according to Simon Casuto of eLearning Mind, to pick three topics you feel comfortable talking about, and “consider using them as ice-breakers” or conversation starters when meeting new people.
Something else you can do before the event, in order to feel more comfortable, is to speak to a friend or colleague and plan to attend with them. Having someone familiar by your side will give you more confidence, and someone to fall back on should your mind go blank mid-conversation.
Before walking through the doors, also consider exactly why you are attending the event. Is it to meet new people in your field? To support a colleague? To try and meet new clients? If you have a clear picture of what you want to achieve while at the networking event, focusing on this goal will distract you from any feelings of fear which might arise.
How can an introvert feel more comfortable communicating?
When push comes to shove, there isn’t much that can be done to avoid the dreaded conversation at a networking event. However, there are certainly ways which it can be made more bearable for an introvert.
Forge some links before the event even starts. See if you can find, through Linkedin or Facebook for example, the contact details of other people who will attend the same event. Striking up a conversation online is much less daunting, and once the time to network comes around, you will already have a familiar connection there at the event.
Remember that there are most likely other introverts in the room who are feeling as uncomfortable as you are. If you spot someone who is alone and looking unsettled, you can be the one who strikes conversation with them and helps them along, as well as helping yourself.
John Rampton of Host recommends setting a target in terms of the amount of time you want to spend networking. You can tell yourself that you will leave after 60 minutes, and ideally you want to strike up as many connections as possible in that time. An introvert’s capacity for socialisation is known to become depleted quickly, so this tactic could prove effective.
Effective body language will give you more confidence, and will also transmit confidence to those you are talking to. As an introvert, it can be easy to overlook common courtesy because you are too distracted worrying about the task ahead of you. It can help to remain focused on the basics - firm handshakes and eye-contact.
Lesser-discussed networking tips for introverts
Not every person will feel comfortable implementing each specific trick, but exploring some tips out of left field could pave the way towards discovering one that really works for you.
If there is food provided at the event, you could do worse than to hang close by. Endorphins naturally rise around food, making people more receptive to conversation and less receptive to any nerves you might be transmitting.
If you can, it helps to highlight any values or skills you might have in common with the person you are trying to connect with. American social psychologist Theodore Newcomb conducted a famous study which found that people tend to take more of a shine to like-minded colleagues.
People are, of course, happy to hear positive things about themselves. If you get in touch with your new contacts after the event is over and tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them, they are likely to associate this positivity with you.
Have someone introduce you to a new group of people, or perhaps endorse your skills. About 80% of people look upon personal endorsements in the same way they would look at advertisements.
Online networking as an alternative for introverts
In the age of social media profiles and the ability to connect with just about anyone over the internet, social networking can just about fill in for real-life networking events.
Updating your Linkedin profile as much you can and interacting with relevant people on Twitter is the way to meet like-minded people in your area of work. You could also help people out by answering their questions on Quora or Reddit. Relevant Facebook groups will contain a stack of people who work in similar fields to you. Go unearth a few.
There are plenty of options, either in-person or using social media, to make the networking experience more manageable. For introverts, it can be said that using social media makes for a much more relaxing experience than the social perils of networking events.
Photo by brittany gaiser on Unsplash.