You are attending a conference and you understand the value in making as many connections as possible. You see others achieve great success using refined networking skills and you want to do the same. But you are an introvert and making friends in a crowd does not come easy for you. What can you do to help you break through the inner voices that are holding you back from becoming a networking expert? These seven networking tips for introverts helped make networking easier for me and hopefully they can help you too.
1.Stand out with a nice outfit
Though internally I may prefer to hide in a corner and be left alone during a networking event than stand out in a crowd, I understand why I am at the event in the first place. And even though I am introverted, it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy people. I am just not always comfortable starting a conversation. So I let my wardrobe do it for me.
There are some of us, like me, who are motivated by the subjective experience and we like to express ourselves through our surroundings. I’ve always been into fashion and style since I was a kid. So I usually show up to an event with an outfit that is a little bit eye-catching. It could be that bright red jacket, those shiny shoes with beads or anything unique to express who I am.
In the beginning of my career, I didn’t follow this practice on purpose. But I’ve noticed the benefit as those outfits have attracted compliments and have helped me to start conversations.
2.Pick a comfortable spot and chill
In my homeland of China, networking is a very different concept. We don’t talk to strangers as much as we do here in the States, and we definitely don’t walk into an event with the purpose of getting to know more people. I’ve always found it very awkward to walk into an event where I don’t know anyone. Who should I approach? Where do I start?
During my graduate school time at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix, I picked up a trick that works for me. Whenever I arrive at a networking venue, the first thing I do is walk in and order a drink. Then, instead of walking around to find someone to talk to, I just sit near the bar and wait while others approach me. Even when no one comes over, I don’t feel embarrassed because I can always talk to the bartender!
During the recent TTI Success Insights annual conference, I intentionally stood close to the snack bar. It makes me feel more comfortable to have something in my hands while carrying a conversation, rather than talking with people with empty hands, so being close to the snack bar gives me that option.
3.Remember other people’s names
This one has become my killer technique recently. As an introvert, I’m not as articulate nor as expressive as others in front of people with whom I’m not familiar. Sometimes I only want to talk when I have a strong opinion on a specific topic. As a result, I tend to be very quiet and it makes it difficult to have a conversation during networking events.
Knowing I am not very talkative at events, my personal challenge is to create a good first impression as quickly as possible. I remember when I first moved to a new school as a transfer student, I was able to build rapport by remembering classmates’ names. So I decided to try the same approach with networking. After all, everyone likes to be remembered and treated as a VIP.
When I call people by name and greet them warmly, I notice people begin to remember me. As an introvert, adapting my behavior is a constant challenge, and I can only do it for so long. Therefore, addressing them by name when I first see them enables me to make contact at the very beginning of an event. This makes all additional conversation come easier throughout the event.
4.Be flexible with the conversations
One thing that stresses me out most about networking is running out of conversation topics. After talking about who we are, what we do and where we are from, the conversation runs dry. Being a young professional and a minority, I find it extremely difficult to network with people who have senior titles or high ranking positions. Sometimes I’m just not sure what to say to begin a conversation with them.
I was standing in line for food during a banquet, and I noticed a gentleman standing behind me so I felt like I needed to say something. I glanced at his name badge and realized he was a very well known and highly influential member of the business community. I got even more nervous than usual. Instead of talking business, we actually ended up talking about dim sum restaurants in the valley and created a connection since we shared this interest.
I realized networking conversations can be short and do not need to be related to business at all. Now I phrase my questions more personally. The biggest takeaway for me is that the best communication strategy is to show sincere interest in the person. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings that like to be treated with genuine interest.
5.Find an ambivert or introvert partner
Earlier in my career, I made a key mistake during networking events that led me to doubt my own self-worth. I used to follow extroverts in any event that I would attend. They would do all the talking, the introductions and topic transitions. At the end of the event, I felt as if I wasn’t really even there!
The truth is, I didn’t enjoy this “conversation” as much as I do when I have one-on-one conversations with others.
Ever since then, I encourage myself to talk with others on my own at the beginning of an event. Remember, I am pretending to be an extrovert in these situations. But as soon as I notice my energy level declining, I know it’s time to find someone who is also an introvert or ambivert and go out as a team. Two introverts can encourage each other with strength in numbers. An ambivert, a person whose personality has a balance of extrovert and introvert features, can take the lead when my energy wanes.
6.Do something after making eye contact
Another embarrassing situation I have experienced is making eye contact with someone then not following up with any conversation. It makes for an awkward moment!
What I observed from other people is when eye contact is made, they immediately do something. They may approach me or they may take a step back. Sometimes they take their hands out of their pockets to shake hands. Other times they start talking, or they may just smile and wave. But they do something.
Of course, as an introvert, I used to just say “hi” and walk away. But now I try to make more of an effort to acknowledge the other person even if it is just for a moment or two.
7.Recharge myself using breaks
This one is probably the most important lesson I learned during my career.
There was one time I went to an alumni networking event in downtown Scottsdale. I often tended to pick out someone to talk to with a similar background as me. On this particular night, I only talked with this one Japanese alumni. While I only connected with one person that night, she is someone I still keep in touch with to this day, so it was a valuable connection.
I realized it’s about quality, not quantity, and making one great connection was worth attending the event. Once I shifted my self-expectation, I realized I didn’t need to talk with everyone at the event and it was even ok if I left early. The key was to make at least one good connection at each event. Once I had this philosophical shift, it changed the way I viewed networking events.
Finally, I learned that taking breaks during network events are the perfect opportunity for us introverts to recharge. For some people, conversing comes easy. To people like me, it’s more of a challenge. Network for awhile, then chill out by yourself and regroup. Before you know it, you’ll be ready to start a new conversation.
Whether you incorporate one, two or all seven of the concepts, they all played a role in helping me to become more comfortable in a previously uncomfortable setting. I recommend starting with one of these ideas in which you feel most comfortable, then expand on to others. You may find that before long, you actually start to get excited about attending networking events and can benefit fully from them.
Want to learn more about introverted leaders and their value to organizations? Download this document below.