As promised, here is Part 1 of my two-part series, “Networking for the Socially Challenged.” This segment will feature tips for how to deal with networking situations (as well as other types of social interaction) as an introvert. If you are new to the series, I suggest reading my previous posts on introversion and shyness; although frequently confused with each other, they are not the same thing! Also, you can find Part 2: Shy here.
As always, I encourage all three of my readers to join the conversation via comments.
Now, without further ado,
Networking for the Introverted
If you are an introvert, networking can often be difficult because you have trouble drumming up enthusiasm about the activity. To begin with, you don’t even want to meet people in person–you’d much rather chat online or even simply e-mail them. Unfortunately, that doesn’t cut it. Furthermore, once you get into a networking situation (a meetup or conference, for example), you are often uninterested in socializing. These tips are meant to help kindle your interest in networking, or at least help you convince others you’re interested.
List your networking benefits and goals
It’s much easier to stay motivated to do something if you remember the benefits, so take some time and write down the reasons for networking and your end-goals for doing so. Do you need a job? Do you need a hire? Perhaps you just want to build your network now so you can draw on it later. If you know of a networking event but are thinking about blowing it off, refer to your list before deciding.
Also keep your list in mind while you’re at that event you didn’t blow off, and try to focus your networking to meet those goals. For example, if you need to hire somebody, disseminate that fact as much as possible. With specific goals, you are less likely to get bored and distracted.
Right now, I’m mainly networking because I need a job–this alone is a huge motivator. But I also want to get my name out there as somebody outgoing (despite being an introvert) and willing to help out–because that’s who I am behind all the introverted shyness. Finally, I want to continue maintaining my network after I’m employed so that it is available when I have some other need to fulfill. Keeping this all in mind helps me get my butt to networking events when I’d much rather be reading by the fire. Yes, even in the summer.
Have a good conversation starter and use it
If you are able to find an in-progress conversation and seamlessly join it, great! However, if you have trouble doing that, think of an interesting conversation starter you can use to get your own going. Then look around the room–there is probably another introvert there trying to find a conversation. Go talk to them! Use your conversation starter to initiate the conversation and proceed from there. Chances are, more people will join in your conversation, and things will evolve on their own from there. The hard part is getting started.
When I was at the Society for Technical Communication (STC) 2012 Summit, I had two related conversation starters. The first was my conference badge. It was printed when I still lived in Albuquerque; I crossed that out and hand-wrote “Chicago” beneath it. Most people would check where I was from, and many asked why I had Chicago written there. Instant conversation.
My other conversation starter was specifically for use at the Summit’s Hospitality Table, which was manned by members of the Chicago STC chapter. Here I just walked up to somebody who didn’t look busy and basically said, “Hi, I’m new!” This led to an explanation of why I was in Chicago, and the conversation evolved from there. It was very easy to converse with a topic already in mind.
Pretend to be interested if you really aren’t
Ideally, you’ll find yourself discussing topics you enjoy. But that obviously won’t always be the case, and an introvert gets sick of conversations pretty quickly if its something they don’t care about. Do not let your disinterest show! You will leave the best impression if you continue to look interested in the conversation and the people having it. There are several ways to accomplish this:
- Smile and nod – It’s cliche, but it is the easiest way to look interested. Also lean toward the speaker a tiny bit. Insert “Yeah?” and other verbal indicators of interest at the appropriate times.
- Try to shift the topic to something more interesting – Being introverted, you may find this difficult without being too abrupt and irrelevant, but it will make the conversation much more appealing.
- Ask questions – Most people are all too eager to carry a conversation about things that interest them (especially themselves), so encourage them to do so by asking relevant questions. They will probably remember you as attentive and interesting.
- Keep your mind on the conversation – This is vital–do not let your mind wander! Mine does all the time, and I have to rein it back in. If you don’t pay attention, you may be unable to respond appropriately to a question. Or worse, you’ll respond inappropriately: “And then my dog died!” “Haha, that’s great!” Do not let this happen to you!
I happen to be a lucky introvert who finds most topics interesting, and I prefer when others carry the conversation. Regardless, I have had to resort to these techniques on occasion, and the person just keeps on talking, so I guess they worked.
Recognize when you need a break and take it
If you’re starting to feel drained, excuse yourself. Go grab a drink or move elsewhere (outside, if possible, or at least a vacant room) for a few minutes. Do what it takes to be alone and ease the over-stimulation in your brain meats. If you don’t take a rest, you may become exhausted too soon and have to leave before you’ve made progress toward your goals. Alternately, it may become more difficult to keep your mind from wandering from conversations, which could lead to a catastrophic faux pas–like laughing at somebody’s dead dog.
My reaction to over-stimulation is to literally shut down. I will fall asleep no matter where I am, how interesting the conversation is, how many people are there, or how loud it is. This is obviously incredibly rude, so if I feel the urge coming on, I have to get up and move around until I’m revived.
This is the easiest advice for an introvert to follow, but don’t understate its importance. If you managed to get through a harrowing network event, reward yourself! You need to follow that experience with positive reinforcement so you are even more motivated the next time you have to go out and network. So buy yourself that book you’ve been meaning to read, go take a candlelit bubble bath, or do whatever it is your introverted heart desires. You’ve earned it.
I hope this advice helps make networking more tolerable for you. I realize there are eleventy-billion posts on the same topic, but everyone is different; what might work for one introvert might not work for the rest. I hope something in here works for you.
Did these tips help you? Do you have any to add? Please leave a comment (or contact me privately, if you prefer) and let me know!