Introverts are people who draw energy from the inner world, a world of ideas, pictures and memories. If you are an introvert, you would probably relate to most of the statements below:
Being an introvert does not in any way mean that you are shy, socially inept and any other negative stereotypes that are commonly used. There are many myths surrounding introverts and the one that I want to tackle today is networking. The lament that networking is hard for introverts is a topic that comes up frequently. As a highly introverted person, I agree and I disagree.
Networking is hard if you try to network like an extrovert (someone who is energised by their outer world). It’s just like pretending to be someone you’re not. Recognising the differences and understanding your own strengths and preferences is the key to successful networking for an introvert. So, if you relate to the description of introversion and are struggling with networking, here are some tips that might help.
Networking tips for introverts
Why are you networking? The answer I get from business owners is because that’s what needs to be done to get new business. Everyone knows that networking is important. Sure, I agree with both statements, but that isn’t clear enough. It means that you will come across vague. You will find it hard to connect. If you are an introvert, your discomfort levels will increase and networking eventually becomes painful.
Have a plan for networking which starts with why. Introverts don’t have words that readily spill from their mouth because much has to be processed in their minds first. If you know why you are networking, you will have a ready explanation.
As an example, my purpose for networking is to build my network. I know who I want in my network – other professionals who serve my target market and people who inspire me and that I could potentially collaborate with. So if I meet you in a networking context, I am interested in what you do and who your clients are. Because I am genuinely interested, conversation comes easily to me. I am not on the lookout for clients in a networking event because my business is largely referral based, so that takes the pressure off my networking.
I have found that having this clarity has made the networking process a lot more focussed and therefore a lot more rewarding.
Most networking events are more suited to people with extraverted preferences. They are large, there is a lot of noise, a lot of people, and the aim is usually to get introduced to as many people as possible. As an introvert, this completely does not work for me. It is frustrating because I feel I have shallow conversations. I collect a lot of business cards but don’t do much with them. Because it is not rewarding, it drains me of energy and I find it difficult.
My best networking happens one-on-one or in smaller groups so these are the style of events that I choose. I do make exceptions of course, and attend some of the larger events, but I do it when I know I have the energy to cope and when I do attend, I would not be unhappy if I walked out with only one or two connections. Contrary to popular advice that it’s a numbers game, I prefer quality to quantity because that is what works for me.
Photo credit: Vijay Bandari via Flickr
There is much to be said about pairing with a networking buddy, especially an extroverted networking buddy. Much like having a wingman in a dating scenario in terms of moral support, it also works as a safety net if you are venturing out of your comfort zone. However, it is important not to be “glued” to each other as it would defeat the purpose of networking.
Be clear what you expect of your buddy and communicate these expectations.
Personal introductions are for me, the best sort of networking. My valued contacts all know that I want to be introduced to people they know and trust. One of the difficulties that I have encountered is networking with people who don’t want to network, which sounds incredibly strange but it does happen. With personal introductions, I end up with my ideal networking scenario – one-on-one with people who want to network, who have already established a relationship with my other contact.
This is where clarity comes back full circle because you need to know who you want to connect with before you can ask for introductions!
Help the other person
This last tip is probably the most important one. Always ask yourself, how can you help this other person? Can you connect them with someone you know? Can you direct them to information that would be useful to them? If your focus is on the other person, and you are genuinely looking for ways to help, you stop focussing on your own discomfort, and hopefully recognise that this is the true value of networking – building relationships.
Hopefully, these tips have been helpful. If you are an introvert reading this post, please do comment with your networking experiences, and I would be particularly interested if you have tips to share!