‘They’ say networking is easy and the best marketing you’ll do. Just who ‘they’ are is unsure, but ‘they’ weren’t raving introverts! Out of interest, research also shows that many extroverts don’t even enjoy walking into a room of strangers, so it’s not just you! To help with that sinking feeling, here’s ten networking tips for introverts.
When I first “went networking” I would rather have had teeth extraction without anaesthetic. 12 years later sustaining the emotional energy to keep talking to a room of people is hard, even when I know them. On the way I’ve learnt there are ways of making networking meetings easier and they can help you get more business. Be yourself and have a system.
10 networking meeting tips for introverts
It’s happened, you have got to go to one of “those” meetings. Here’s 10 networking tips for introverts to help you.
- Check them out, before you check in: Who is going, that you already know? Can you meet them beforehand, if it makes it easier for you? Who is going that you don’t know? LinkedIn may help you know who you’re talking to, or make it easier to ask them questions (with the advantage that it demonstrates you are interested as you’ve done more leg work than most people they’ll be talking to).
- Relax: No, it’s not easy and the more introverted you are, the harder it is to sustain. However being relaxed makes it easier to be yourself (even have some fun), which helps your networking. What helps you stay cool, calm and collected? Arriving early helps some people, the odd discreet “loo visit” can help you recharge your emotional batteries, or even get a job…
- Get a job. Can you offer to help the host of the event? Having an “official” role often makes it easier to talk to others in the room.
- Good listener? One of your introvert superpowers is that you are a good listener. Networkers far prefer to chat with somebody, like you, who is a good listener. However just listening is not being a good listener, as it can mistaken for disinterest (or sleep, or unconsciousness). Active listening (some questions, non verbals and summaries) makes a huge difference. When you really listen, you will think of great questions to ask. Those questions a great way to engage in the discussion, they’ll come when you stop worrying about talking and concentrate on listening (it even works for me). By the way, you are in total contrast to the most hated networker, the networking bore. Most people hate (and I’ve asked lots) the person who talks, and talks and talks (mainly about themselves).
- Practice makes perfect: How can you spot opportunities to engage in conversation and try your skills? Many years in retail taught me that most shop assistants long for decent conversation, and receptionists revel in it. Or you could just try events outside your area, just to practice.
- Small talk, stock questions: Yes, I hate small talk too. But, it ‘oils’ the conversation, having some subjects in mind makes it easier.
- “Have you been to this event before?”
- “What’s your connection to the event?” This question can uncover mutual contacts and usually leads to a more robust answer than if you asked the typical
- “I think the speaker made a really good point about xyz, what do you think of the speaker?” It’s good to inject some of your views and something positive.
- “What keeps you busy when you are not at events like this?” This can help the other person to share her outside interests. That normally injects some positive passion and energy and will help you to do the same.
- “Where are you off to on holiday this year?” This can lead to conversations about family, reveal special interests and help keep a conversation interesting.
- “How did you come to be a xyz?” Their journey can give some interesting clues to what makes them tick (and lead to other questions)
- What are your favourite small talk questions and importantly how do you answer them with positive passion?
- The business card: I don’t really think much of business cards, they’re just a step between the handshake and entering the data into my CRM. But, it strikes me how much easier it is to start a conversation with ‘I do like your card, because xxx’. So, how does you card stand out? That can make it easier for somebody to talk to you! Maybe it’s time to visit a good graphic designer after all.
- Be there, be bright, be gone. Your words may be forgotten, but how you make people feel will be remembered (well, it’s often quoted chemistry, whether true or not). Keep the initial conversation short and positive. Aim to agree a follow up (if appropriate), then move on and speak to more people (or take a short break between each discussion, disappear outside for two minutes to recharge).
- Don’t mind the gap: Introverts are normally comfortable with silence, unless they think they’re supposed to fill the gap! Don’t sweat when there’s a brief interlude in a conversation. It may give the other person a moment to think, or rest. It may help you think of another of your stock questions. Normal conversation does have some gaps, so stay relaxed. A few pauses in between your sentences will allow you to check the other person is mentally still there.
- The follow up: If you’ve been through all that pain, at least make sure you have a chance of some gain. How will you ‘meet’ these people again? An online connection on LinkedIn allows you to message them and keep in touch. Then another stage of the journey starts.
A bonus tip – the introvert’s escape
The exit parachute: Nobody wants to be stuck for too long talking to one person. You’ve come to meet a variety of people (really!), so have a couple of ways of politely exiting a conversation whether you want to follow up, or run away!
- I must top up my tea / coffee, do excuse me
- Have you met xyz?
- What sort of person can I introduce you to? Then bring them into the conversation.
- Can we connect on LinkedIn… This can be a good prelude to ending the conversation.
What networking tips for introverts would you offer others?
- Virtual networking for introverts
- Networking meetings - Post Covid
- Should you arrive early to networking events?
Charlie Lawson, author of "The Unnatural Networker" and Director of BNI-UK knows a thing or two about networking. Here's what he said about how introverts can improve their networking.