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Introversion has its perks, like not needing anyone or anything besides Marshall and Lily and a bottle of wine to have a good Saturday night, or having the time of your life cooking Cacio e Pepe for one. On the other hand, there are a few downsides, like being invited (aka forced) to attend networking events as part of your job. Networking for introverts is about as awful as it gets.
Because the world isn’t satisfied with you simply doing a great job to climb the ladder, you have to talk to people and socialize to advance your career. I know first-hand the struggle you’re facing, but I’ve found ways to overcome (or at least lessen) my aversion to these kinds of things, and so can you.
1. “Oh, God, I don’t know any of these people…”
As your resident introvert, I know that it’s your (and my) worst nightmare to walk into a room and realize you don’t know a soul. If this happens, I’ll find myself awkwardly standing by the hors d’oeuvres table until someone takes pity on me and strikes up a conversation. So, maybe all of us introverts should take a shot before any event. Actors do it to relax before performing a scene, so why not us? Leave it at one, though. Drunk networking for introverts is probably not a good idea. (And use mouthwash afterward.)
2. “Will people think I’m weird if I just stand in the corner by myself?”
Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes. I don’t know for sure, though, as I’m usually the weirdo in the corner. I try to make myself remember that I’m here to network, so by not doing so, I might as well not even be here. If you’re having trouble, try to find another introvert (we’re usually pretty easy to spot) and start talking to them. Then, no one will think either of you are antisocial.
3. “Ah! There’s someone I know! I’ll just cling to them for the rest of the evening.”
Hey, it’s a start! While being attached at the hip to one of your acquaintances all evening may come off as a little odd, there’s nothing wrong with hanging out and talking to them for a little while, until you get more comfortable. They’ll probably introduce you to other people, and then it’ll be easier for you to start branching out.
4. “That networking dinner is three hours long? Do I have to stay the whole time?”
No, you don’t! If it’s between going for only an hour and not going at all, just go for that one hour. Make it your goal to talk to (insert desired number here) of people before you leave to make the night worthwhile. Trust me, knowing that you only have to stay/suffer for one hour does wonders for your happiness and outgoing-ness. Afterward, treat yourself to ice cream. Or vodka. You deserve it.
5. “I really don’t want to ‘people’ today.”
If you’re like me and only want to ‘people’ about once a week, I feel your pain from this daily struggle. Unfortunately, it’s something that you’re just going to have to suck up and deal with. Unless you hit the jackpot and can afford to buy your own private island away from the rest of society, you’re going to have to interact with people on a regular basis. Plus, the people you meet at these events are usually pretty cool, so it’s not completely unbearable.Also, food. Enough said.
6. “Are these other people actually having fun here?”
Probably about ¾ of them are having a good time. Even if they’re not, they’re going to act like they’re having fun because it’s important for their careers. Us introverts should take note of that and pretend to have fun too (even if we’re so miserable that we would rather be dead) because it’s important for our careers as well. Fake it until you make it (or at least until the event is over).
7. “How do I start a conversation with a random person?”
Because you can’t really use the classic “What’s your major?” that you used to get know to people in your college classes anymore. But you can ask them where they work, what they do, etc. to get the ball rolling. If you’re not good on your feet, memorize a list of icebreaker questions. Or write them on your hand. (Kidding. Don’t do that.) Asking questions and letting the other person talk really isn’t a bad thing…people like to talk about themselves, so why not let them? Everybody likes a good listener and introverts are the best listeners. Make sure to at least act like you care about what they’re saying, though, instead of watching their mouth move and daydreaming about cheesecake.
8. “What on earth are we going to talk about?”
Carrying on a boring, awkward conversation with someone I neither know nor care to know isn’t exactly my idea of fun, but that person could end up being a good connection, so I deal with it. If you can’t think of anything to say, remember that you are both at the same event, so surely you have something in common. Keep asking questions until you find something, and if you can’t, peace out and find someone more interesting to talk to.
9. “I wish I was more extroverted.”
Sometimes I wish that as well. It’s not like we hate people; we just don’t want to be around them all the time. But, we can’t really change who we are and what makes us happy, so we’re just going to have to learn how to talk to people like a professional. Plus, don’t forget that being introverted has some great advantages, too!
10. “Why can’t I just participate in online networking?”
You can. But I wouldn’t completely rely on that. Nothing quite beats a face-to-face conversation (*sigh*), so don’t entirely eliminate actual networking from your life. Try doing half online networking and half in-person networking, so at least you can hide behind the safety of your computer screen half the time.