Networking seems antithetical to the reserved nature of introverts. If you love being by yourself, hate small talk, don’t normally talk to strangers, and dislike noisy crowds, you might be tempted to skip business and meeting mixers altogether.
However, it is possible to make profitable business connections by attending networking groups – without signing up for a personality transplant. When I lived in Boston for more than a decade, this was my second most important method of making business connections, after public speaking. Here’s how.
Choose the right groups. Test a group by attending once or twice before you commit to it. Some groups are friendly to newcomers, others are not. Some groups ensure that everyone has an opportunity to introduce himself or herself, both to the whole group and to everyone sitting at a particular table.
Structured networking situations work much better for introverts than just milling around, like at an enormous cocktail party. Similarly, smaller meetings help you feel at home faster than enormous ones.
Get involved in an organization. You will feel more comfortable and meet people more easily when you have an official role. Volunteer to be a “greeter” and you have the job of talking to everyone briefly as they walk in. Or sign up for the publicity committee and you will be thanked publicly whenever the group gets media coverage.
Find someone who is standing alone. It’s far easier to begin talking to someone who may feel as lost as you than to break into a group who are already chatting away in earnest. Likewise, when deciding where to sit for a dinner meeting, sit next to someone who isn’t talking to anyone yet rather than next to a small clutch of old, established friends.
Attend meetings with a buddy. An extroverted friend can help you break the ice most easily, of course. But even pairing up with another introvert lets you show up with a game plan while not feeling like a total outsider.
Polish and practice your 30-second introduction. This is sometimes called your elevator speech – how you explain who you are and what you do in the time it takes to go from the lobby to the eighth floor. Give your spiel a creative or humorous twist if possible. Your reward: People come up to you afterward and initiate a conversation. That is always easier for introverts than talking first.
Plan innocuous time-filler questions ahead of time. Use these to chat with someone who also seems not to know too many people there. For instance: “Are you a member?” “Where did you park?” “This is my first time here, what about you?”
Use the Internet to prep for the meeting. If the organization has a member list posted online, do a little research and select a few business people you’d like to meet, then ask for them when you check-in at the door.
Forget about quantity. Networking yields the best results from quality conversations rather than mingling with as many people as possible or collecting the most business cards. Just one person you hit it off with might turn into a great connection for you.
Always keep in mind that networking is not a party. Your goal is to make connections with people who might become clients or who know people who can help your business move forward. Using these techniques helps you relax and let connections happen.
In the next lesson, we’ll turn to a marketing method that more obviously fits the introverted personality – writing.