Networking. Are your palms clammy yet?
Let’s face it—many of us dread all that this word implies. Networking can often feel forced, awkward, and uncomfortable at best. And, when you consider yourself to be more of an introvert than an extrovert? Well, you’d probably rather zip yourself into a cozy sleeping bag filled with fire ants than have to brave yet another event filled with name tags, introductions, and lukewarm chicken skewers.
But, here’s the other thing you know: Networking is a necessary evil. Introverted or not, shaking some hands and making connections is important for growing your career and advancing your reputation.
So, what do you do? Resign yourself to a life of huffing and puffing into a paper bag every time you need to put yourself out there and meet new professional acquaintances? Fortunately, no. As an introvert, there are a few key tips you can use to make networking at least a little more bearable.
1. Accept Yourself
There’s a lot of content out there on being introverted. But, there’s a common issue that crops up in a lot of it: It talks about being an introvert as if it’s a major personality flaw. But, rest assured, being introverted is not an inherently bad trait.
Sure, you may be a little more reserved in group settings and generally prefer solitude to rowdy get-togethers, but that doesn’t mean you’re not cut out for networking at all.
The sooner you make it a priority to find methods of networking where you feel comfortable—rather than trying to wiggle yourself into some sort of widely-accepted “networking persona” that isn’t at all natural to you—the better off you’ll be.
2. Seek Out Situations Where You Feel Confident
With that in mind, you’ll want to channel your attention and energy into finding networking opportunities where you feel at your most confident. Yes, you might still feel slightly nervous or uneasy at times. But, if you can find situations where you don’t feel totally uncomfortable, it’ll be much easier for you to open up and have some meaningful conversations.
If a large conference room full of hundreds of professionals instantly makes you break into a sweat, search for some smaller gatherings of people in your industry where you won’t feel so overwhelmed. Or, set up one-on-one informational interviews where you can chat over lunch. Hey, you can even send out a few customized LinkedIn invitations in order to network without leaving the comfort of your own home.
Remember, there isn’t just one form of networking—you have some flexibility to find something that meshes with you best.
3. Focus on Quality Over Quantity
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a successful networking event means walking away with a huge stack of business cards in your hand. However, that’s not necessarily the case.
When networking—whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert—it’s better to focus on quality over quantity. The very point of networking is to start forming relationships with others. But, too many people think of it like speed dating—they make it their goal to shake as many hands and make as many introductions as possible.
But, do you know what those people walk away with? A stuffed rolodex, a sore hand, and, well, not much else. They didn’t forge any real connections with people that they can actually circle back with at a later date. And, ultimately, what good does that do you?
So, if you’re overwhelmed by the thought of trying to cram as many people as possible into one networking encounter, take a deep breath. Your approach of having memorable conversations with just two or three people will likely work out much better. Don’t worry—you don’t need to tell that to the guy who’s spinning around the event like the Tasmanian Devil.
4. Bring a Friend
Starting a conversation with a total stranger can definitely inspire a feeling of panic to rise from your stomach to your throat—particularly if you consider yourself to be more introverted. This is why it can be beneficial to bring a friend (bonus points if he or she is slightly more outgoing!) that you trust along to these networking events.
There are numerous benefits to this approach. For starters, you know that you always have someone you can talk to—saving yourself from uncomfortably shuffling your feet in the corner of the room. Secondly, your more extroverted friend probably feels much more comfortable strolling up to strangers—meaning he or she can do the hard work of getting a conversation rolling.
Of course, you don’t always want to ride on your friend’s coattails when it comes to networking. But, it can be a helpful strategy in those moments when your nerves are getting the best of you.
Networking is enough to make even the most extroverted among us uncomfortable. So, as an introvert, it can quickly become something that you absolutely dread.
But, don’t panic yet—that doesn’t mean you need to write it off as something that simply wasn’t meant for you! Implement these four key tips, and you’ll be able to shake some hands and make some connections with as little stress as possible.