Networking for Introverts: 9 Tips for Building Professional Connections
Syndicated from The Penny Hoarder
Most professionals will tell you the same thing: Networking is a necessary part of career growth.
When done well, it can be an invaluable way to gain new clients, develop professional relationships and promote your business.
But, if you’re an introvert (or just a generally shy person), networking feels more like a necessary evil.
Luckily, there are tricks, tools and techniques to make the traditional networking experience a little less awful.
9 networking tips for introverted small business owners
Many introverts miss out on valuable networking opportunities because the thought of schmoozing with strangers is intimidating — if not outright terrifying.
Here's how to prepare and make the most out of your next networking event.
1. Don’t force it
Why sign up for a 7 a.m. breakfast event that’s open to 400 people if the thought of a large crowd early in the morning paralyzes you? You’ll just end up a groggy, frustrated wallflower thinking about bailing 20 minutes into the event.
Diving into a situation that makes you wildly uncomfortable will only be a waste of both your time and your money — and that of your fellow networkers.
Before you sign up for an event, make sure that it will be a situation where you can relax, open up, and enjoy yourself. A mid-morning coffee meetup or a casual wine night might be more your style, and that’s OK.
Some breweries even have low-key networking events where you can order a beer, play some bar games and chat with like-minded professionals in your city.
2. Have a buddy
If the thought of going it alone is too much to handle, grab a networking buddy. Ask a friend or coworker to go with you to take a little bit of the pressure off. Just make sure that said friend is a good talker so they can help carry the conversation if you get stuck.
Additionally, if you end up needing to hide in a bathroom stall while you take a few deep breaths, you’ll have a point of contact so you can rejoin the crowd without having to stand on the fringes awkwardly until someone approaches you.
3. Get there early
Arriving a few minutes early ensures you have time to get settled, collect your thoughts and take a few deep breaths before diving in.
4. Come prepared
Two things you should have in your networking arsenal: a solid elevator pitch and a few pre-rehearsed questions and talking points.
As for the questions and talking points, just keep one thing in mind: People love to talk about themselves. You just have to be interested.
Since you’d rather not chat about the sports score from last night or the 40% chance of precipitation, asking thoughtful questions that launch your conversational counterpart into an involved monologue can give you just enough time to formulate a follow-up.
Because introverts tend to do better in small groups or one-on-one conversations, make sure to foster those meaningful exchanges rather than superficially working the room.
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5. Set achievable goals
Set small, achievable goals for yourself before you arrive. Having defined markers in to-do list form can help you move through the event without getting overwhelmed.
These goals can include things like “collect 10 business cards,” “shake five hands” or “send follow-up emails to three people.”
Start small the first few times and grow your goals from there. Eventually those little actions will feel natural to you, and you’ll be able to switch your focus to more involved networking. Practice makes perfect, and you shouldn’t be ashamed if it takes you a few events to get the hang of networking.
6. Gain some false confidence
Seek out the person in the room who looks way more terrified than you and know that they’re feeling just as anxious about this situation as you are. All of a sudden you’ll feel like the talkative, outgoing one and you can help loosen each other up.
A little false confidence goes a long way when it comes to crawling out of your shell.
7. Take a breather (or five)
Don’t feel bad about excusing yourself to take a breather in the hallway or the bathroom when you start to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes you just need a minute to gather your thoughts and take a few deep, relaxing breaths before heading back out into the thick of it.
8. Don’t forget to follow up
Let’s be real: If you skip the follow-up, the entire anxiety-inducing networking event was practically worthless.
For introverts, the email follow-up is crucial to making a good and lasting impression.
While you’re at the event, take a minute between conversations to scratch a couple of notes on the back of each individual’s business card. Include any key information or takeaways from the conversation that you can reference later.
Then, draft a short and sweet email to each person you met, reminding them who you are and what you do.
Make sure to include any details you’re still kicking yourself for forgetting during the event, along with how you think you might be able to help each other in the future.
If you’ve made it through the entire event, good on you! If you only made it through half, that’s OK, too. Keep putting these tips into practice and eventually you’ll start to feel like a pro networker. You might even start to enjoy beginning your day alongside 300 talkative strangers.
Rachel Christian is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder. She focuses on retirement, Medicare, investing and life insurance.
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