Networking for introverts: 4 non-scary ways to make meaningful connections
9 am. A generic hotel conference room. The lingering smell of cheap coffee.
From an uncomfortable fold-away chair, you watch suited-up professionals fake laugh their way through conversations they pretend to be interested in. The sharp-cornered business cards in your pocket dig into your thigh, making you fidget, compelling you to make an exit ASAP.
Welcome to your first business networking event. Aren’t you glad you came?
Many introverts dread the idea of networking. With so many networking events fitting the description above, it’s no surprise.
This is the domain of the silver-tongued sales executive; the too-cool-for-school PR consultant; the loud-mouthed public speaker. Small talk with the likes of these makes you wonder if you’re cut out for this whole running-a-business thing.
But here’s the good news: you don’t have to attend corporate networking events to meet the right people. There are less intimidating, energy-draining ways to gain valuable business contacts. You just have to give them a chance.
Below are four methods that I’ve found useful for growing my network, without pretending to be someone I’m not. Whether you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert, I hope they help.
1. Choose the right events
Straight-laced business networking events aren’t the only places where you can make useful work connections.
Creative talks, local meet-ups and after-work drinks can all be opportunities to start meaningful conversations with interesting people.
Elsewhere, Cardiff Start’s informal pizza and beer evenings have led to memorable chats with startup founders and entrepreneurs.
Keep an eye out for similar events in your area, particularly ones with organised talks. The shared experience of listening to someone speak is a guaranteed conversation starter, not to mention a chance to learn something useful.
2. Network online
Meeting strangers face to face can be daunting. Luckily we live in the digital age, so needn’t leave our laptops to start conversations.
Social media, for all its faults, is a nervous networker’s dream. Facebook groups exist for every profession, weekly Twitter chats provide the chance to swap ideas with industry experts, and Instagram hashtags allow you to comment on topics relevant to your work.
Avoid spreading yourself too thin online. It’s better to use one platform effectively than to half-heartedly divide your attention across multiple networks. Choose one site where your target audience spends time, and get social.
3. Focus on individuals
Walking into a crowded room of business people can be daunting, especially for those who are used to working alone.
If you feel nervous about the prospect of large networking groups, aim to make purposeful connections with individuals instead.
Scattergun approaches to networking are rarely successful. Just as the number of social media followers you have doesn’t equate to the number of friends you have in the real world, shaking the hand of every person you encounter at a networking event won’t give you the meaningful relationships you’re looking for.
One truly interesting and memorable chat with a likeminded individual is better than waving your business cards in the faces of 10 uninterested event attendees.
Introverts often excel at listening carefully, making shrewd observations and thoughtfully contributing to discussions. If you can do this on an individual level, feeling shy in large groups becomes irrelevant: you’re merely engaging in a series of friendly conversations, one human at a time.
4. Create your own networking opportunities
Making useful connections in the real world can happen wherever you interact with people.
Being proactive with the people you chat to online could lead you to create your own networking opportunities, meeting Twitter friends for coffee or arranging an IRL meet-up for the Facebook group you’re a member of.
Even without internet buddies, leveraging communities you’re already part of could be a way to expand your network.
Attend an evening class? See each lesson as a chance to chat to someone you’ve never talked to, swapping professional details and seeing where it leads.
Play for a sports club? Ask your teammates if they know anyone who could benefit from your services. It can be surprising how many opportunities present themselves when you simply put yourself out there.
Don’t let being an introvert get in the way of your success. Every conversation, no matter how small, can be a networking opportunity. Whether you’re making a new friend, a business contact or a bit of both, connecting meaningfully with other people increases your chances of having an awesome life. And who doesn’t want that?