Networking for Introverts - Tips to Save You Time and Energy
6 Minute Read
The traditional advice on networking is “talk to as many people as possible and gather as many business cards as you possibly can in the shortest amount of time”.
I am an extrovert and I played that card for many years – for me this is fun and it fills me with energy, but it does not necessarily create deep meaningful work relationships. Plus, if the scenario above feels like your worst nightmare, it’s probably because you may be an introvert.
Am I an extrovert or an introvert?
An extrovert loves (and is energised by) being out talking and interacting with people most (or all) of the time; many concepts they have in their mind are not real until talked out with someone else.
An introvert is almost the opposite:
If you find that talking and being with people all the time drains you physically and mentally, if you like to think things for yourself first and don’t necessarily feel they have to be validated by talking them out with other people, if you are energised by being alone and prefer sitting in a quiet room reading a book rather than being out with other people – you are definitely an introvert!
See the difference between the two? Then, if you are an introvert, how on earth are you going to network, to get yourself and/or your expert knowledge known if being out and talking with lots of people drains you?!
There are some tricks you can use to not only survive, but succeed as an introvert in an extrovert’s world.
Your first priority should be conserving your energy.
Without it, you can’t do anything else anyway!
The way you conserve energy (when it comes to networking as an introvert) is by changing the way you meet and network with the people relevant to you and the way you manage relationships to suit you:
⦁ Instead of networking blindly at a meeting and exhausting yourself, focus on meeting Connectors – those are people who know a lot of people relevant to you and your work and for them networking is a hobby, not a drain! If you get to know 5-10 connectors you won’t need to meet many other people as these connectors will be able to put you in touch with pretty much anyone you need to know. This means instead of talking to 30 people and feel like you are going mad, you only have a lunch here and there with 5 people who are key! Connectors usually have over 2000+ connections in LinkedIn and/or perhaps over 2,000 followers on Twitter.
There are also ways you can meet lots of people without it being socially demanding, without you having to go out and meet them. Here are a few tricks:
⦁ Make a Blog about your area of expertise: this way you can become known to a community of people who will know you and may even approach you at events.
⦁ Write articles in industry specific magazines: find a few magazines in your area of expertise that you are interested in and start sending them articles, in time you could become a regular writer and another group of people will get to know you.
⦁ Public Speaking: give as many presentations as you can, every time someone asks you to speak, take the chance! You will become known by the people who are interested in the sort of work you do. If they come to talk to you immediately after the speech, suggest arranging a time/day to discuss another time being it by email, phone, or whatever your preferred form of communication is - so that you can carry on the conversation on your own terms, and when you have the energy to do so.
If going to a networking event and you know there will be a few people you’d really like to meet, there are 3 things you can do:
⦁ Start the conversation with them before the event online via social media or email. This means when you meet face to face you have a “history” and you already seem familiar to them.
⦁ Read as much as you can about them beforehand: their LinkedIn profile, their Twitter feed, Facebook page and/or (do they have a) blog? All these may give you insights into the world from their perspective, the things they are concerned with or what they may need at the moment, their future plans or places where they’ve worked in the past that perhaps you may have in common? All of these are potential conversation starters and it could mean you can predict most of the topics of your conversation with them.
⦁ Make a list of questions you’d like to ask them and perhaps the key points you remember about them, this way you can remind yourself of these a few moments before you approach them face to face and you feel less anxious about talking to them.
⦁ Start the conversation by saying: “Hello, I’m John (state your name), we were in touch via email/Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn”.
As an introvert, you may prefer to go to networking events (or conferences, seminars etc) as a last resort, so if you DO have to go to an event and you don’t know who is going to be there but you want to meet a few people, here are a few tricks you can use:
⦁ Don’t go in the crowd to meet people randomly, it will exhaust you! Instead ask the Connector to introduce you to people of high value to you. Tell them a specific issue you have or specific type of person you’d like to meet.
⦁ If you don’t know a Connector yet (if you are reading this article, you know one already, I am one!), look around the room and see the people who are alone, not talking to anyone and perhaps standing in a corner, looking a bit lost. Approach them by simply saying: “Hello, my name is …”. My ex-husband is an introvert and when we went to a TEDx conference together he was shocked how I went around meeting the whole crowd simply by approaching each person with “Hello, I’m Adelina Chalmers”. He started copying my approach and discovered it also works for introverts! When you approach them like this, people naturally feel obligated to tell you their name and start the conversation. If you are both introverts (and probably if you start talking to the person standing alone in a corner, they are very likely also an introvert) you could find yourselves spending the rest of the evening talking and finding out quite a lot about each other, thus building a lasting, deep working relationship, not just a cold business card exchange where no one remembers the next day who that person was.
⦁ Don’t immediately ask “what do you do?”. Instead ask them how they heard about the event or something else that could spark common interests.
⦁ Instead of networking with lots of people at the same time which will drain you, invite people out for lunch or a drink one by one. This way you can get to know them better and find out about their work in more depth and instead of a simple contact, you will develop a deeper professional relationship. This does not mean that every single lunch you have available you should invite someone out as you soon will find yourself exhausted mentally and physically and it will be worse than networking in big groups.
⦁ If you've had a lot of conversation but feel you need to stay for longer although are feeling a bit drained, there is nothing wrong with escaping to somewhere quiet (even a toilet) for a few minutes to have a break.
Remember, you should always try to use your strengths to achieve any goals!
This means that if meetings and talking to lots of people exhausts you, there is no point forcing yourself to do it and network “the old fashioned way”.
Be smart and use your strengths, as an introvert you may enjoy more writing or reading than talking, so use those skills as a way of networking and meeting people suitable to you and your work. Good luck!