What do you do if the mere mention of networking makes you cringe?
Know that you’re not alone. Up to half of Americans are introverts, according to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
As someone who used to struggle with social anxiety, here are six tips that have helped me go from being too intimidated to ask where the ladies’ room is to establishing long-lasting professional relationships.
1. Get to the networking event early.
Picture two scenarios: In the first, you arrive midway through a large networking event to find a room full of people deep in conversation. In the second, you’re one of the first people to arrive, so you meet the hosts, who then introduce you to the other few people there. An introvert might like the anonymity of blending into the crowd in the first scenario, but the second offers a less stressful opportunity to connect.
When you arrive early to an event, you’re less frazzled and can get the lay of the land. You’re also more likely to meet the organizers, who will serve as great contacts. They’ll want to see people mingling at their event, so they’ll be apt to introduce you to others. Even if the hosts don’t personally introduce you, it’s easier to enter a small group than to break into a larger one. That small group is probably looking for a new person to meet—and that person is you!
2. Give yourself permission not to talk to the entire room.
There’s usually at least one person in the crowd who makes it their mission to meet every single person in the room. Sometimes these people are social butterflies who are eager to truly connect with people and may even help introduce you to other people in the process. Usually, though, they’re more like vultures, circling the perimeter and then “preying” on people by interrupting conversations to talk about themselves.
Focus on introducing yourself to the people you actually want to meet. It’s more valuable to make genuine connections with four people who will remember you and what you can offer as a colleague than it is to meet forty people who won’t remember you at all. People you’ve had authentic conversations with will be more invested in helping you achieve your career goals.
3. Use the buddy system.
An extroverted wing-woman can offer support and help introduce you to new people. Just make sure you don’t latch on to this person. Instead, occasionally check in on each other. Let them know what type of people you’re hoping to meet. If they happen to encounter someone in that position or with that opening, they know to introduce you.
If you decide to fly solo at an event, you can still work the buddy system. Once you’ve established a connection with someone who may also be attending alone, you can take turns introducing each other to new people. This makes introductions much more natural. It also allows you to potentially double the amount of people you meet.
4. Don’t worry about talking about yourself.
It may sound counterintuitive to focus on someone else when networking, but shifting your focus to the person you’re talking with has psychological and business benefits. Asking the other person what their needs are allows you to build a rapport, and by listening to their answers, you’ll be able to discern how your skill set can best help their business. It’s a win–win. They no longer have to use their imagination to figure out if your cold-pitch matches their business needs. Instead, you’ll be able to offer them the solution they’ve been looking for because you’ve actually listened to their needs.
5. Get the other person’s business card.
Ever meet someone whose sole goal seems to be to get rid of every last one of their business cards? Anyone who does this is the human equivalent of a pop-up ad: intrusive and insincere. Only once you’ve established a meaningful connection with someone should you exchange business cards.
Flatter others by asking for their cards. This not only ensures you can keep the conversation going afterward, it also means that when you follow up, you come across as confident, proactive, and organized. This allows you to operate from your position of strength: from your quiet home, you’ll be able to take your time as you write an email to your new contact. Drop them a line letting them know you enjoyed the conversation, bringing up something you talked about together. Then, let them know if there’s a specific way you can offer help, before making your polite request—whether it’s to meet for coffee or if they could introduce you to their hiring manager for the job opening they’d mentioned.
Being an introvert is a networking strength!
Stephanie Nikolopoulos is the coauthor, with Paul Maher Jr., of Burning Furiously Beautiful. For more information, visit: StephanieNikolopoulos.com.