I know there are a ton of posts out there about networking for introverts. Wendy Gelberg, for one, has a particularly comprehensive and useful list of resources I call on often.
However, three years ago this week I was thrown into a role with YouTern involving social media, networking and building long-term relationships – and had to find my own ways to overcome my introvert-ness. (Is that a word? It is now.). My hope is these thoughts help others labeled as “shy”…
Some people are the “life of the party” – they love the spotlight and almost constant social interaction. But others prefer to be a bit more… selective… in their sociability. You know who you are – you’re introverts. I count myself among your numbers.
Introverts aren’t shut-ins, sitting at home alone with odd hobbies like knitting sweaters for our growing collection of cats. We’re not anti-social. We just prefer to be social on our own terms… when and where we feel comfortable doing so.
In the professional world however, and for the sake of our careers, sometimes we must break out of our shells – boldy go where, to be honest, we don’t really want to go. Networking is one such place.
But to succeed and advance in the business world, networking is essential.
For some, professional networking can be a nerve-wracking, anxiety producing chore – interacting with dozens of strangers for prolonged periods of time. They’d rather go to the dentist; or be trapped in an elevator with Rosie Perez singing gospel music, than be faced with a roomful of strangers. As with anything else in life, however, becoming more comfortable with networking just takes a bit of practice.
Here are some introvert-friendly steps I used to help myself gain confidence with networking. They may help you, too:
If you’re truly uncomfortable meeting new people, have no fear – the Internet is here!
Start by networking online. Join professional twitter chats and make contacts through friendly, professional conversations. Networking sites like Brazen Careerist and LinkedIn also afford you opportunities to widen your contact list and comfort zone – virtually.
You might also join local trade associations and attend their periodic meetings. If the thought of in-person small talk makes you too anxious… start slowly. Attend meetings and just observe people. Listen to the way they interact. You can leave whenever you’d like. After a few meetings you’ll become familiar with some of the people and the meeting’s topics and, the next time you attend, you may want to join in some conversations.
Attend with a Friend
Perhaps you feel much more comfortable inside your circle of friends and family. So bring your comfort zone with you!
When attending a networking event, have a friend join you. Ideally this person is quite comfortable in professional settings, but also is sensitive to your reservations. You’ll feel more relaxed having a friendly face that you know. You still have to talk with new people. But your friend can play “wing-man” in conversations, helping you ease into face-to-face interactions.
After the networking event, realize you just pushed yourself to expand your limits. Celebrate your accomplishment, however minor you may think it is, by treating yourself!
Schedule a manicure; have your significant other take you out for dinner; treat yourself to ice cream, (or in my case, a burrito). Reward yourself – you earned it. Just keep the reward reasonable… “surviving” a networking event does not warrant a day at Tiffany’s, or a new car. (Unless it is the NACE Annual Conference – then do whatever you want!)
Realize Networking Is Everywhere
It may not seem like it, but in reality, every conversation with a new person is a networking event. Talking with the person next to you on the plane… a Superbowl or Oscar-watching party… even standing at the checkout stand at the grocery store – you’re interacting with people.
And that’s the basis of networking – interaction.
If you truly are committed to becoming more comfortable with professional networking, use these informal opportunities to practice. Smile; concentrate on maintaining steady eye contact; and engage in a two-way conversation, however brief. Soon, these interactions will be more natural and comfortable. You can then take that new-found confidence with you into professional networking situations.
All You Have To Do… Is Listen
Many introverts don’t like to be the center of attention – we’re often self-conscious about talking about ourselves. The bonus for us is that most other people aren’t!
To be fully engaged in a conversation, you really don’t have to say a lot. Ask questions about the other person… and listen to their answers. Ask follow-up questions to what they’ve said. Outgoing people (extroverts) like to talk about themselves. At the end of the conversation you may not have said much at all. But the other person will feel that you were really quite interesting.
I won’t guarantee that the suggestions above will definitely work for you – although I sincerely hope they do.
However, this is how I, as a fellow introvert, was able to expand my circle of professional contacts and overcome some of my introverted tendencies. I’m now more of a “situational” introvert, and am quite proud of my progress so far.
More, undoubtedly, to come!
About the Author: Dave Ellis is an original member of the YouTern team and is instrumental to its success… in fact, he’s so awesome there wouldn’t be a YouTern without him (and he might have written this bio himself). Dave serves as YouTern’s Content and Community Manager, and enjoys his role as the company’s “Man Behind the Curtain”. In his spare time, Dave volunteers, rescuing and rehabilitating sea lions and baby elephant seals. Connect with Dave on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter!