By: Julie Maio
Ah, networking. It’s a buzzword, a commonplace piece of advice that’s doled out at panels, and also a very beneficial skill to hone if you want to “make it” in this world. For some, it’s their time to shine in the limelight and work their magic amongst potential professional connections, and for others it can be anxiety-inducing and full of dread. Regardless of where you fall, it goes without saying that networking is important no matter what profession you’re in, considering most people find and land jobs thanks to the help of their connections.
But what if you’re introverted, shy, or have social anxiety? Does that mean that you’re doomed to be jobless or end up in a job that you hate? Well never fear, because I’m here to tell you that you can still be a rockstar at networking as an introvert; I’m living proof.
I like to describe myself as an extroverted introvert, but I’m also a little awkward and struggle with small talk, so the combination didn’t make me a grade-A networker at the start. But with a little work and taking baby steps to push myself outside of my comfort zone, I can now go to networking events without wanting to put a paper bag over my head or avoid them completely.
Here’s what’s worked for me...
Bring A Friend
Looking back, there have been a few instances where I attended networking events with friends, and this was a huge help. By bringing a friend, you have someone who can pump you up before the event, they can help introduce you to other people while there, and if you find yourself getting fatigued talking about yourself, your friend will hopefully be there to tap in and speak highly of you.
Having a friend can also make things fun. If you’re like me, I love having someone to crack jokes with to lighten the mood or raise eyebrows at if someone says something ridiculous. Just because you’re at a professional event doesn’t mean you can’t bring humor into the forefront. Plus, laughing and joking with others will most likely help you to relax and feel more at ease.
Fake It ‘Till You Make It
No, I’m not talking about dressing up and becoming a method actor like Daniel Day-Lewis and his Abraham Lincoln stint. What I mean is to rely heavily on the “fake it ‘till ya make it” mindset. If you go into a networking event thinking that you’re going to be an awkward mess, won’t know what to say, and envision yourself sitting alone scrolling through your Instagram feed, then that’s more likely to happen. And for what it’s worth, unless if you announce that you’re introverted, nervous, or shy (FYI - none of those things are bad!), no one will know.
On the other hand, if you pump yourself up beforehand and believe that you can and will make solid connections, speak succinctly about your background and future goals, and have everyone fawning over you, you’ll probably do just that (or at least somewhere in the middle).
At this point, and since I’ve been to a number of networking events, I’m able to put on my networking “hat,” which brings out certain traits and qualities that I don’t need or try to use elsewhere. So, if you need to invent a different “version” of you to get through networking events, go for it
Do Your Research
Something else you can do before a networking event is to research the individuals in attendance if there will be speakers or a panel as well as the focus of the event. Take a look at the panelists LinkedIn profiles and bios so that you’ll be able to bring that information into a conversation (but don’t have a social media stalker vibe and creep them out lol!) and prepare questions ahead of time.
You might want to ask them what was their favorite aspect of their first job at XYZ corporation, how did they land in their job today, or what was their biggest challenge when they went from job X to Y - you get the point. This will make you feel more prepared and less worried, but make sure you’re not reading from a script or sound rehearsed.
Another thing you can do is come up with talking points about why you’re passionate about the networking topic. For instance, if the panel and event is about jobs in a specific sector, come up with a few 30-second “sound bites” as to what excites you about the field and how you see yourself advancing the industry.
Collect Business Cards & Follow Up Via Email
I am the first to admit that I am much better at expressing myself via written word than verbally (I used to keep many a diary back in the day). So, what I typically do after a networking event, especially if I feel like I was a total awkward turtle during a conversation with someone, is reach out to them a couple of days later via email thanking them for their time and reiterating a few of our talking points in a more concise and direct manner.
Plus by reaching out to them after the fact (and hopefully throwing in a few memorable moments from your conversation) you’re showing the individual that you care about nurturing your relationship as opposed to waiting for them to reach out or not contacting them until you need something.
This one goes without saying, but if you’re not at the point of being able to attend networking events with groups of people, look to different social media platforms to connect with others. Obviously, LinkedIn is a great place to start, but depending on what line of work you’re in, it may be just as advantageous to connect with a fellow blogger on Facebook, a graphic designer on Instagram, or a journalist on Twitter, to name a few examples.
Do you have any tips for making networking easier for introverts? If so, leave it in the comments!