Sweaty palms. Hot cheeks. That overwhelming feeling of awkwardness.
If you’re anything like me, networking with a roomful of strangers might give you the impulse to run and hide rather than get out and socialize.
However, after speaking with several experts about networking, I’m convinced: networking as an introvert (and doing so successfully) is actually easier than you’d think.
In fact, introverts have innate networking strengths that not all extroverts possess. “Introverts are great listeners,” said Julie Weber, CMO at Brllnt. “We seek out people to have one-on-one conversations versus standing in a social circle where you’re not engaged with anybody.”
And authors like Anita Bruzzesse have pointed out that introverts bring unique strengths to the workplace as well, such as the ability to collaborate better on a team.
Networking Skills for Introverts
So, what are some concrete tips you can use to network as an introvert? I’ve spoken with C-Level executives Julie Weber, Kathryn Minshew, Shana Glenzer, and Mona Patel to round up advice for introverts. Now the next time a networking opportunity arises, you can embrace the opportunity instead of avoiding it altogether.
Remember You’re Not Alone
“Almost everyone feels awkward at networking events — yes, even extroverts,” said Kathryn Minshew, co-founder of career website The Muse and author of The New Rules of Work. “Some people are just really good at putting on a comfortable face and pretending that standing in a room full of strangers is totally normal.”
With that in mind, find some comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Everyone feels a little awkward at networking events, but it’s nothing that can’t be worked through.
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Bring an Extrovert With You
More than one person brought up the power of a networking buddy. Invite one of your more extroverted friends to join you at your next professional networking event. They can do the heavy lifting, like introducing you to a new group of people. After that, you’ll likely have the opportunity to engage with one of those group members one-on-one, an interaction where most introverts thrive.
Set a Goal
Even though Julie is a CMO, she still gets anxiety about attending networking events. But she’s found one way to keep it under control, and that’s having a goal in mind. “When I attend a panel, I am much less anxious because I have a purpose,” she said.
If you’re not doing something as daring as speaking in front of a crowd, there are plenty of other purposes you can create — for example, decide how many people you want to talk to before the night is over. You can even check out the list beforehand and decide who you want to meet by the end of the night.
Take Some Alone Time First
Most introverts feel drained as opposed to energized when socializing with large groups of people for long periods of time. If you know that about yourself, take some alone time first to re-energize and come prepared.
“It takes a lot of energy for introverts to work a room. Take a minute, whether going to a coffee shop before the event or taking time in your office,” said Shana Glenzer, CMO of MakeOffices. “Give yourself a target goal that you want to talk to five people tonight and if you want to hang to the side and observe, give yourself the flexibility and permission to do that after you meet your goal.”
Introducing yourself to new people might leave you flabbergasted, but that’s fixed easily enough.
“The trick to staying calm and collected when you already feel uncomfortable is to prepare accordingly,” said Kathryn. “Have some talking points ready to go, practice your ‘elevator pitch’ (a thirty-to-sixty-second snapshot of who you are and what you do) ahead of time, and know what your goals are for attending an event.”
For example, if you’re attending an event to gain industry knowledge and contacts, prepare questions you’d like to get insight on ahead of time.
Seek Out Quality Time
Time and again, this advice also came up. As mentioned before, introverts possess a unique strength in developing fewer, but closer relationships overall. Use this to your advantage, and invite someone you’d like to get to know for a cup of coffee or a walk around the park.
Doing so is also a great way to express a more genuine side than you may be able to show at a large, professional networking event.
Get to Know People You Already Know
It sounds a bit silly, but talking more to coworkers you already know is a great way to expand your network. It’s also a great way to understand your coworkers outside of the office, which will usually benefit your working relationship. You already have your job in common, which makes starting conversations easier.
“It never hurts to get to know the people you work with on a more personal level,” said Kathryn. “What do they like to do for fun? What kind of music do they listen to? Beyond that, try to connect with employees in different departments. Start by saying hello in passing, and then extend an invitation for coffee or lunch. And, of course, you can always take part in office activities, like happy hour or team outings.”
Reframe Your Thoughts on Networking
If you hate the term and idea of networking in general, you’re definitely not alone.
“If you have baggage around the word networking, use another word. The same goes for the word introverts,” said Mona Patel, CEO of Motivate Design and author of Reframe: Shift the Way You Work, Innovate, and Think. “If networking means you’re not as ‘insert word here’ as someone who is extroverted, that statement doesn’t serve you. Instead, consider thinking of it as, ‘meet cool people at events, and then go home.’”
Another way to flip traditional networking on its head is to instead capitalize on easy one-on-one time throughout an event, instead of designated networking times with large groups.
“I usually talk to the person I sit next to on the train, in line waiting to register or get coffee, or in the front row where people are here to learn like me and sat down early. I don’t think of networking as having to meet every person at the event, but rather to have one fun conversation,” said Mona.
Will reading these business networking tips suddenly make talking to a bunch of strangers easy? Probably not. But I hope that, like myself, you’ll find that leveraging your many strengths as an introvert will help you make genuine connections if you approach it with a different mindset. And who knows — you might just make some lifelong friends in the process.
This article is an excerpt from Justworks’ new eBook, How to Build Your Network From the Ground Up. You can download it for free here.