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I’m an introvert who does a pretty good job of pretending to be an extrovert. Growing up, I was pretty shy and hated having to talk to anyone I didn’t know. I now work in development for a nonprofit, so not talking to people isn’t really an option. I have to talk to donors, volunteers, and staff members, so I’ve had to really work on my networking skills. But, at the end of the day, I “recharge” by being alone, and I think living by myself is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.
All of this to say, I have to work really hard to overcome my introverted ways—especially in a work setting. So, if you’re like me and the thought of networking terrifies you, keep reading for some of my best networking tips for introverts.
Start in Your Comfort Zone
I know, I know, networking is totally out of your comfort zone. The thought of mingling with strangers and giving them your elevator pitch makes you start to sweat. But, there’s a way to find a happy medium. Try to find a networking event that fits your interests. For example, if you love to watch sports, look for a networking event hosted at a game. Or there could be a networking event happening at your favorite bar. There might even be a local nonprofit you’d like to get involved with that hosts a young professionals’ group.
If it helps, bring a friend along. Just don’t spend the entire event talking to the friend you brought; make sure you’re making new connections too.
Look for Networking Opportunities in Your Daily Life
Maybe the thought of going to an official networking event is too much for you. Start small. Think about your daily interactions. Think about your friends—and even your friends of friends. I’m not above texting someone to ask if they’ll introduce me to a friend of theirs who might be a good connection for me to have. Here’s a text I have maybe probably sent: “Hey! Could we do dinner sometime and invite (insert name)? I think (he or she) might be a great connection to have.”
I also can’t count the number of times I’ve made a connection with someone when I wasn’t expecting to. Thank goodness for business cards. And for Facebook friend requests. These are two great tools for making a point of contact. This might go without saying, but be strategic about which medium you use to make a connection. If I meet someone I think might be a potential donor for the nonprofit I work for, I give them my business card. But, if I meet a friend of a friend I want to invite to join our young professionals group, I’m more likely to send a Facebook message to keep a lighter tone.
The key, however, is to make sure you follow through. Send a quick email or message saying it was great to meet them, or even set up a meeting.
Work With Your Weaknesses
Talking in front of a group of people has always been a weakness of mine. The idea of going into a group of people I don’t know and starting conversations is intimidating AF. So instead of avoiding networking events because I’m afraid of having to talk to a lot of different people, I try to focus on having a meaningful conversation with one or two people. I still have a networking goal, but by thinking smaller I don’t have to worry about making sure I meet every person in the room. And my heart doesn’t race as much when I walk into the room.
If you struggle with what to say to people, practice! I’m not suggesting you bring a stack of questions with you (actually, really don’t do that), but have a few go-to questions you can ask. A few suggestions:
What do you love most about your job?
Do you know where you want to go next in your career?
Really try to pinpoint the areas you struggle with and develop a manageable goal. If you want to improve your follow-through, don’t start by trying to set up coffee meetings with every person in the room. Baby steps.
Know Your Limits
I know that after I’ve worked all day at the office my energy levels can be pretty drained. That makes it difficult to get pumped up for a networking event after work hours. One of the things that makes my inner introvert freak out is not knowing how long something will last. Low energy levels + being unsure of how long I have to stay at an event = high probability of me bailing.
While I can’t do this with every networking event, for most, I try to give myself a time limit. Usually, it’s an hour. One hour gives me enough time to make some connections and have a few different conversations with people. But one hour also doesn’t seem too overwhelming, either. And hey, if things are going well, I’m always open to stay longer.
Don’t try to change everything all at once. Set small, attainable goals. Start by finding one event you want to go to or one group you want to join. Go from there. It’s hard out there for an introvert. But put yourself out there just a bit…and then go home to recharge.