Networking helps you build your community, impact and business. Introverts, stop ignoring this opportunity because a room of strangers is your worst nightmare. Start growing through collaboration and connection with my guide to surviving networking as an introvert.
Are you pretty sure that networking would give your business a real boost, but the idea of walking into a room full of strangers makes you feel a bit sick? Do you see other small business owners online who seem to be a real part of the local business community and you feel like no one even knows who you are, but, you’re sure it’s super cliquey and they wouldn’t want you? Are you just kind of lonely working from home all day and want to share your days with others who have a similar experience? Let’s talk about networking as an introvert, how to navigate a networking event in a way that doesn’t make you feel icky or have you hiding in the loos on your phone waiting for it to end.
First things first, I don’t think most people have me pegged as an introvert. I’m usually the one in the room talking just a tiny bit too loudly, laughing the hardest and smiling at everyone until my cheeks ache.
I spent the vast majority of my formative years rarely speaking unless I was asked a direct question. I was painfully shy, I spent so long trying to formulate something to put into the conversation that it would have moved way past by the time I psyched myself up to saying it. If I’m honest, I still have moments where I know exactly what I want to say that could add something to a conversation but I’ll hold it back.
Mainly though, I love to be alone. I also love meeting new people and building connections with people. I am actually perfectly built for a life as a solopreneur because I get to spend lots of time alone in my office and then have intense time with others, then more time at home to recoup.
I say this to clarify that you may well be an introvert even if you’re not super shy or quiet. My boyfriend is an extrovert, yet he loves to listen and of the two of us I’m definitely the more talkative. But, he just loves to surround himself with people, in a way that I would find exhausting. Carl Jung’s definition is pretty perfect – “each person seems to be energised more by either the external world (extraversion) or the internal world (introversion).”
In my life a wedding photographer, I had never seriously considered networking. In fact, I briefly looked at branching out into corporate photography, but the idea of having to network terrified me so much that I didn’t think it was worth it. Even at periods where I was really lamenting how isolating I found working from home, I didn’t think networking was something for me. It was only when I committed to business coaching that I knew it was time to network. As an aside, it is remarkable how, when I knew I really wanted my coaching business to take off, I just decided I’d have to make myself uncomfortable and figure out how to make it OK.
That said, it didn’t come without its struggles and having arrived at my first networking event, I spent a good 10 minutes pacing around outside, on the phone to my Mum telling her I didn’t want to go in. I did go in, I exchanged some very clammy handshakes and by the end of the event I was incredibly excited and inspired, I ended up booking a client at this event and making connections that continue to be beneficial to both of us. If I can do it, you can too.
Enough bonding time, let’s get to the networking for introverts tips…
1. Remember why you’re networking
When you’re doing something uncomfortable, if there’s not a good enough reason to do it, you just won’t. Your business and your goals are too important to let some fleeting discomfort hold you back. When you’re fighting with yourself about whether to leave the house for that networking event, just remember your big goals. Visualise them and be really specific. Sometimes I imagine that my business success will allow me to finally own a pet raccoon…even though they are some pretty clear laws against that.
2. Everyone wants to meet you
Keep in mind that everyone is at a networking event to meet new people and you’re a great connection waiting to happen. So, get rid of any feeling that you’re imposing or that you’re not welcome. Oh and I totally had that, “what if they all know each other already?” fear when I started. I’ve learnt that if they do, that’s great because they’ll all be eager to meet me because they’re there to meet new people.
3. Being bad at things is how we learn
Sometimes the worst thing we do to ourselves is beat ourselves up for not being brave enough, or thinking “this isn’t even a big deal, why are you making it so hard?”
You’re probably not going to love it the first few times, you’ll probably be hella nervous and you’ll probably be a bit bad at it. Maybe you’ll stumble over your words, or find yourself looking around the room not knowing who to talk to, or you’ll forget something important, or not take anyone’s business cards. The thing is, no one is going to judge you on that…they won’t even notice. I learn something at every networking event. Each time I figure out how to present myself a bit better, what things I felt good about saying and what things I didn’t.
4. Practise being who you want to be
One of my favourite things about networking is that new people don’t know anything about you. They don’t know who you are, where you’ve been or who your friends/family expect you to be – they don’t even know that walking into a room of strangers is scary for you. That makes networking an amazing opportunity to practice being who you want to be – introduce yourself as a business owner and enjoy that they don’t know that you’re worried it’s not even a real thing/you’ve only had a few clients/it’s been a slow month/whatever. Think about it, when someone tells you what they do, your default assumption is that they know exactly what they’re doing and are successful. Networking can be an amazing exercise in becoming the new you.
5. Don’t have any expectations
A sure fire way to hate networking is getting discouraged if you don’t come away with a whole load of leads from your first networking event. That’s not really how networking works, while I have had business from networking events, it often came from unexpected people or in ways I hadn’t imagined. Networking is about becoming part of a community, as you network more you’ll start to see the same people, they’ll start to recognise you, you’ll be in their minds and next time someone does need what you’re selling, they’ll most likely say, “I know a woman who does that…”
Oh and in case it wasn’t clear, that means that you shouldn’t dismiss people who aren’t your ideal client. I work exclusively with women who run their own businesses, yet I spend a significant amount of my networking time talking to men who work for larger companies. Most people you meet will know someone who is your ideal client…and more importantly, you can take something of value from every conversation – enjoy being around a load of motivated business people and sharing expertise.
6. Focus on connection
Focus on real, human connections with people. Ask them questions, don’t just get stuck in your head thinking about what you’ll say next or how to crowbar in your business. Don’t think of this as a sales exercise, when your business does come up, tailor your response to what you know about them and don’t go in for a hard sell. Also, don’t be the person who just shoves your business card into everyone’s hands without any conversation. You’ll notice that you remember the people you made connections with and actively dig their business cards out of your collection, but, the people who were just chucking them at you with no effort to get to know you? They probably end up straight in the bin.
Did you know that our bodies are kind of silly and that your brain doesn’t know the difference between a real and a fake smile? So, if we keep smiling, our brains will think, “ooh, good things are happening,” and it will actually lift our mood. Also, a smile goes a long way, it makes you look open to chatting so people are more likely to approach you.
While I wouldn’t get too caught up in canned responses, it can help to quiet those panicked voices in your head to know what you’re going to talk about. I find that having an idea of how to describe what I do in a succinct and interesting way makes me feel more confident. Also, some great business cards can be a talking point and make you feel like a badass.
9. Listen & ask questions
Everyone loves talking about themselves, right? You’ll meet your fair share of people competing to shout the loudest at networking events. But, for the most part, you’ll meet decent people who will really appreciate you listening to them. Ask them questions and express genuine interest. You can even stray from the standard “what do you do?” “how long have you been doing that?” questions and ask about them personally. The added bonus here is that there’s an opportunity for you to make a real, strong connection with someone when you stray from standard small talk.
10. Look out for the stragglers
I notice at most events, there are always one or two people who aren’t loving the situation, they’re in the corner looking like they don’t know how to break into a conversation. I look out for these people because they’re my people. I make a special effort to go and talk to them and to introduce them to people I’ve already met. This makes you a really good human and it’s great to do just to be nice. But, those people will really appreciate you helping them and others probably notice that you’re a nice person too, which can never hurt. Oh and if you’re a straggler, join forces with the other stragglers and hit the room together.
This one sounds obvious, right? Let’s say you get chatting to someone you click with, you start to feel comfortable with them and you don’t want to leave them to go back to potentially awkward conversations. Push yourself to move on, think of the opportunities you might be missing by playing it safe. If you get on well, suggest that you both go meet some other people and head over to another group together. This can actually be an asset as it makes you feel closer to your new networking buddy and makes it less intimidating approaching other groups.
12. Follow up
So, you went to a networking event and it wasn’t as bad as you thought, in fact, you met a few people you’d love to stay in touch with. Don’t sit on that or wait for them to contact you. Get those business cards out and go find them. You’ll notice LinkedIn is the most popular with people who regularly network. If you haven’t got a LinkedIn or it’s woefully neglected (like mine was when I started networking) think about doing a bit of a tidy up before you go networking and start building connections there. When you add them, don’t let that little “notes” section go unnoticed, send them a personalised message with your connection request. I like to mention where I met them (on the off-chance they don’t remember me) and something we talked about. If LinkedIn isn’t your thing, a little email is great.
Invite people that you particularly enjoyed talking to for coffee. Oh and don’t make the coffee a big sales chat either. In my experience, coffee dates are great for sharing experiences and collaboration – figuring out if you might have leads you can refer to each other or work together. The one-on-one nature of this is particularly great for us introverts.
13. Try, try again
It gets way easier. I went from pacing around outside terrified to go in, to actually quite looking forward to networking. The more you do it, the more routine it becomes. As you go to different events you’ll learn which you like best and you can start to be more specific about what you’re looking for. I would recommend spreading the net wide to begin with though, I was really surprised when I started at the different vibes at different events. Often I felt most at home at the events that seemed intimidating on paper and a little deflated after some of the ones I was excited about.
14. Give yourself time afterwards
Now, my introverts, there’s a good chance you’ll be exhausted after a networking event. I generally come home excited and inspired, but also in need of a good recharge. Where possible, schedule your day so that you don’t have an intense day afterwards. I like to give myself at least a few hours after a networking event where I don’t talk to anyone and catch up on admin.
15. Explore alternatives
I almost didn’t put this here because in my experience, networking in person is the most effective way to create connections. But, online networking can definitely be part of your networking plan – I’ve been a member of a few Facebook Groups where there are really solid communities that have led to referrals and a lot of learning. Aim for niche groups and ideally ones that don’t allow promotions so there’s a chance of actually engaging. Remember, as with in-person networking, don’t just go in there with a sales pitch. Give people value and get to know them, let people view you as an expert and someone who is generous with their knowledge.
There you have it, 15 ways to make networking as an introvert a whole lot less intimidating. If you’re on the fence, I challenge you to sign up for one local event and keep all of the above in mind. When you turn up with zero expectations, ready to make real connections with everyone, it’s really no big deal.
If you’re in the Hertfordshire area, I am launching my very own women’s networking event – focused on being super un-intimidating and inclusive. If this is your first time networking, a return after some less than amazing experiences, or you’re just looking for something new, my networking events are a great place to start. My focus is on keeping things casual and leaving no woman behind (if I see you standing alone, I will introduce you to someone and get conversation flowing). Keep an eye on my Facebook feed for updates.
Go out there, get networking and be unstoppable.