Networking is a critical skill for succeeding as a business owner or career professional. For introverts, the standard networking models can raise anxiety and just be downright draining. There are scores of large networking events that require us to enter larges spaces filled with people, walk up to complete strangers to find out what they do, and collect business cards that will hopefully lead to good relationships and new opportunities in the future. For an introvert like me, preparing to go into an event like this is not trivial.
Just to make sure we’re on the same page, let’s take a step back and discuss some key differences between introverts and extroverts. Introverts tend to enjoy being alone. Excessive interaction with other people can be very draining (and, for some, excessive can be a 10 minute face to face discussion with one other person). Spending time alone revitalizes them. On the other hand, extroverts are energized by being around people. The same interaction that drains the introvert rejuvenates the extrovert. Susan Cain’s book “Quiet” does an excellent job of characterizing the plight of the introvert living in an extrovert-oriented society as well as highlighting the power that introverts intrinsically possess.
My former business partners were both extroverts. If we went to a large networking event, at the end of the night I was exhausted and they were exhilarated. I knew that networking was critical to our success, so I did my part. But over time, I realized that there were ways and techniques I could use that allowed me to do my part and still honor and use the strengths of my introvert personality.
Choose small venues/groups. I began attending specialized events that were limited in attendance (no more than 30 people) but still allowed me to interact with other business owners. Examples include invitation only small business owner events hosted by our company benefits broker as well as more niche topic events (relevant to my business of course) hosted by associations and groups. In these environments, I was able to engage in deeper discussions with my peers. The more intimate settings and substantive conversations fell more in line with my introvert comfort zone.
Leverage existing relationships. Instead of attending a huge networking event and randomly hoping to meet people that align with you, why not try shaking the tree of those you already know. They say that there are only 6 degrees of separation between any of us so imagine how many relevant contacts already exist in your current network. I’ve found customers, mentors, and strategic business partners through connections direct from my family and friends. You won’t know unless you ask, so get your message out there to those you know so they can help you. You’ll be surprised what comes your way.
Allow yourself a hard start and stop. If you do find yourself in a position where you need to attend a large networking event, give yourself permission to arrive and leave at predefined times. Don’t force yourself to stay for the entire event. If you’re like me, you’ll be no good after a certain point anyway.
Allow yourself time to step away and regroup. On more than one occasion, I’ve stepped out to the restroom or a quiet foyer area during a large event just to get a moment of solitude for a little rejuvenation. There is nothing wrong with doing this. It can give you the refresh you need to go back out there and meet your future client, boss, or strategic partner.
Allow yourself time alone after the event. If you attend an event that you figure will completely drain you, do not throw yourself into additional meetings/social events immediately after. Give yourself the time that you need to recharge your battery. In order to do what you need to do for your business, career, and the important people in your life, you have to take care of yourself first.
Whatever your personality type is, be true to yourself. Trying to put on a mask that isn’t authentic to your true self will only hurt you in the end. Networking does not have to be a dreaded ordeal. Instead, figure out what works for you and use your strengths to your advantage.
Do you have any unique approaches to networking you can share with others?