When I was about 10 years old, my father gave me a Myers Briggs personality type assessment. (He administered these as part of his work, and I believe was simply curious where I would land.) My resulting personality type was INFP, the “I” being for introversion. They say all types are equal, that no type is the best, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt more like a diagnosis that yes, I was officially too quiet, too reserved, too contemplative to succeed in this world. I remember telling myself I would work on being more assertive like my father (an ESTJ) and retake the assessment in a few years, hoping for the” E” for extraversion.
Fast forward about 25 years, and thankfully I’ve realized that it’s true, all types are equal. The different types are to be appreciated and understood to the extent possible, not ranked. Introverts are naturally stronger in some areas than extroverts and vice versa. One area that seems nearly unbearable for an introvert however, is networking. The word itself can stir up feelings of anxiety. It doesn’t have to though. While extroverts might be more comfortable ‘working the room’ and even enjoy that situation, introverts can be just as successful at meeting new people and making meaningful connections. They may simply need to approach it from a different angle. Here are some suggestions to take the pressure off of your networking life and prepare for your next opportunity to build new relationships.
- Set a quota. There may be times in your life when it seems there’s a networking event every day. Decide in advance how many networking events you will attend per week, per month, per quarter. Be picky about which events you’ll attend – select the ones that truly seem interesting to you. Once you’ve met your quota, feel free to pass on the next invitation, without guilt. More time spent networking doesn’t necessarily mean more success in networking anyway. During multi-day conferences, trainings, etc., you may need to set a quota per day. You need to leave time to recharge, whether by going for a run, reading a book or eating a pizza. You’ll be at your best for the next event or the next day if you take a break. Bonus: Your count can include coffee meetings! Most introverts do better in one-to-one interactions, so feel free to skip the large mixers sometimes, and instead put your energy into coffee or small lunch meetings. These are completely acceptable and effective forms of networking.
- Arrive early. Arrive early when people are in very small groups. It’s easier to mingle at the beginning of an event when only a handful of people are there rather than trying to add yourself onto the groups that have already formed. On a related note, feel free to leave early if you’ve already met at least one person that you would like to keep in touch with, or talked to three new people, or whatever your goal was for the event.
- Prepare. Before the event, spend a few minutes preparing some talking points. Think about what you really want to learn or get out of the event, what you want to learn from others – this should generate some questions to ask. Some can be simple and re-used from event to event. For example, “Have you been to this event (or city) before?” “How did you get started in your career?” Also think about what you want to share about yourself. Even if you don’t end up using all the prepared talking points, you’ll likely feel more confident going into the event simply because you prepared for it.
- Be present and LISTEN. Since you’ve already done your preparation, try to get the most out of the event by being fully present. Look, listen, ask questions and then listen again. Listening usually comes naturally to introverts, so this should be an easy one! Be sure to contribute to the conversation, but when it’s time to listen, simply listen. Celeste Headlee, a successful writer and radio host, gave some great advice on listening in a TED talk. Don’t think about showing that you’re listening by nodding, asking clarifying questions, making eye contact, etc. Instead, actually pay attention to the speaker and LISTEN, and the fact that you’re listening will be evident.
- Find your people. Before the event, obtain a list of attendees and find the ones that you’d like to meet, that you have a decent reason for contacting. Reach out to them in advance, whether via LinkedIn, other social media or an email introduction from a mutual friend. Not everyone will reply, and that’s okay. Some might! After all, 1/3 to 1/2 of the population is introverted. These people will likely welcome the chance to have a somewhat known entity to find at the event.
- Follow up. After all that energy spent going to the event and meeting someone, be sure to keep in contact. Follow up with an email or text to continue to relationship. A simple LinkedIn or Facebook connection could remind you to wish them a happy birthday or congratulate them on the next promotion.
Networking is all about people, and often times, about people wanting to help other people. I am certainly still an introvert after all these years, and even to me, that doesn’t sound so bad. All this being said, there may still be moments at networking events when your heart starts racing and you wonder how you got there, and that’s okay. When you get through it, you’ll likely be stronger for it. Bryant McGill says, “Whatever makes you uncomfortable is your biggest opportunity for growth.” Proactively set yourself up for success in your networking life, relieve the pressure where possible, but be ready for uncomfortable situations as well.
- Susan Cain’s TED Talk, The power of introverts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=c0KYU2j0TM4
- How to Learn to Love Networking. https://www.quietrev.com/learn-to-love-networking/
- 5 Networking Tips for Introverts: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/suzanne-grossman/networking-tips-for-introverts_b_5265049.html
- An Introvert’s Guide to Networking. https://www.themuse.com/advice/an-introverts-guide-to-networking
- Celeste Headlee’s TED talk, 10 ways to have a better conversation. https://www.ted.com/talks/celeste_headlee_10_ways_to_have_a_better_conversation