Is one of your goals this New Year to create connections through networking? There’s no downside to increasing the size of your professional network. Unless you are an introvert and the idea of walking into a room of people you don’t know and making small talk gives you anxiety. I understand. I am an introverted, highly sensitive, entrepreneur and leader of a women’s networking group in my community (Eagan, MN) called FemCity.
Over the past six years, I have developed an understanding of why I make a good leader and how to get past my nervousness to network with others. When attending or leading an event I focus on the positives of being an introvert; we are good listeners, observant, trustworthy, approachable, and focused. I approach someone that is sitting alone or off by themselves because they are often introverts, too. I enjoy holding space for others, introducing people, and navigating the room. It does take me time to recover from the energy of the day though. If you can get past your shyness to network with people, then you’re unstoppable.
Here are 6 tips for the introverted networker:
1. Reframe – If you’re getting ready to go to a large event and find yourself in a panic at the mere thought of it, then change your thinking. Focus on something smaller, not the large room of people. Focus on your goals and what you would like to accomplish at the event instead. Don’t overstay either. It’s okay to duck out early once you have made your meaningful connections.
2. Prepare yourself in advance – Know who’s going to be at the event and figure out who you’d like to connect with. You can email that person in advance and let them know that you’d like to connect with them and why. Do a little research on their interests as well to give you some talking points when you do meet.
3. Work the event – See if you can help plan or set up the event. This will help you to know who the key players are in advance. You can always be the one who picks up someone from the airport to bring to the event so that you can have a little one-on-one face time in a less intimidating environment.
4. Use your shyness as a strength – Introverts make great listeners, and this is a really great way to get people interested in you. If you can muster up the courage to start off with an ice breaker question (like asking what someone thought of the speaker) and then just do what comes naturally to you and listen, then you have marked yourself as someone who can be counted on.
5. Practice makes perfect – Part of what can make you nervous as an introvert is fear of the unknown. The more events you attend and the more people you share your elevator pitch with, the easier it will become. If you know that you have an important event coming up, then try attending a few other events in advance to try out your talk with others first. In this way, you can get it down pat for the moment when it really matters.
6. Wrap it up – As the conversation ends, make sure that you get a plan in the books to meet again. Exchange business cards and jot some notes down on their card about what you discussed. The next day, send a follow-up email thanking them for the conversation about x, y, and z, and then firm up your plans for coffee and an opportunity to talk more. You’ll be “in like Flynn,” as they say.
I look at networking as relationship building and not pushing my business card onto others. I have allowed myself to be open and create a strong network, which in turn has allowed for new friendships and collaborations. These new relationships you create could impact your future or theirs in ways you can’t begin to imagine. I wish you happy networking!