The Four C's of Networking for Introverts
When you picture a PR professional, the adjectives “sociable”, “outgoing”, “energetic”, “talkative”, “persuasive”, “confident”, or ”animated” might come to mind. The word "introvert" probably doesn't top the list, as introverts are often characterized as shy, quiet, meek, or guarded. Many people, however, have passionate careers in PR and Communications and describe themselves as introverts. The main difference between an introvert and extrovert is that extroverts acquire their energy through social interactions, whereas this is how introverts lose their energy. Introverts need solitude in order to recharge their batteries. These differences are important to note, as they have a huge effect on your experience networking. It is absolutely necessary to network in order to build connections, reach required audiences, learn, grow, achieve recognition, and expand your community.
For those introverted people who are at the beginning of their career path the thought of networking can induce serious anxiety. Fortunately, there are methods for them to get the most out of networking, without compromising their personalities or missing out on valuable opportunities. These include tips on preparing for events, how to navigate large, crowded events, choosing alternative modes of networking, and recognizing the benefits of having an introverted personality when it comes to making quality connections. Let's call them the four C's of networking for introverts: compose, connect, converse, and confidence.
When you know you have a networking event coming up, it is necessary to prepare yourself mentally and physically. You know that these events can be exhausting and uncomfortable. If you research the topic or theme of the event and who is hosting it and why, you will save yourself awkward moments, getting caught off guard, and be less afraid to pipe up and add your thoughts to a conversation. Have a goal in mind, even if it is small. For example: aim to have just one five minute conversation with someone new. It can be easy to get overwhelmed by a large room full of strangers; remind yourself that the overall goal is to make connections. It is better to make a small number of valuable connections with people you look up to or want to learn from, than to make many superficial connections.
Since social engagements are exhausting for introverts, you may want to keep the hours before and after a networking event free of other social gatherings. For many introverts, there is a specific window of time that they are able to be “on” in social settings before they become mentally drained. Take the time before an event to make sure you are physically prepared. Don’t show up on an empty stomach or dehydrated. You want to avoid any distractions, such as feeling lightheaded, mentally fuzzy, exasperated, or irritable. It may even be beneficial for some people to spend a little time mediating; anything that helps you focus and center yourself. If you are someone who fidgets when you are nervous, bring something to hold in your hands to keep them steady. Following these tips will help you be as ready as you can to go into an event.
Now you have prepared yourself as much as you could, you bit the bullet, and have signed up to attend a large networking event full of strangers. In the beginning, you may want to attend a few events as simply an observer and not pressure yourself to be outgoing, but to get comfortable and ease into it. You can also learn what types of events most suit your needs and choose to only attend those. One tactic that can help introverts is to show up to events early (before the crowds). That can make it easier to meet and link up with someone. The window of time you have before burnout is limited and there are many people in attendance, so don’t try to form a deep connection in such a large forum. When you do meet someone noteworthy, get their contact information in order to set up a one-on one follow up (more on that later).
While it is true that the overall goal is to make connections, it is also important to avoid burnout as much as possible, as it can turn introverts completely off networking. You cannot access your full potential when you are mentally, emotionally or physically run down. You must pace yourself and schedule rest and quiet time between meetings and events. During an event, it can help to take five or ten minute walks into a quiet side room or hallway away from others to collect your thoughts. If you want to grow your network and make connections that will help you learn, you’re going to have to get out of your comfort zone. Do it in ways that will keep you sane and not overwhelm you.
On that note, there are many ways of networking that do not include (often terrifying) large events. You can choose and manage your interactions to play to their strengths. Opt for emails over cold calls and small or one-on-one meetings over large events. After all, cold calls can come across as aggressive, and big events involve too many people, short, superficial interactions, and limited time. One-on-one meetings are easier for introverts because they generally flourish in established relationships. When you do land a meeting, keep it as lightweight as possible by taking them out for coffee, asking for advice, their opinion on an idea, etc. Search out networking opportunities within groups you are already a member of, such as alumni groups or organizations you have worked for in the past. You can reach valuable people who you already have a mutual interest with if you just get a little creative. It also makes a request for a meeting less random or reaching. As an introvert, you benefit from the current age of social media networking. Online, digital meeting places are often easier than face-to-face interactions for introverts, facilitating desired connections and dialogue.
Being a networking introvert, you have more working in your favour than you realize. There are many strengths to being an introvert. They are good listeners, focus well in one-on-one conversations, and put more choice and thought into their spoken words. Make a point in asking open-ended questions, and your innate listening skills will open up vast opportunities for learning and connecting with people. Think of networking as a form of research and learning, and it will become less about scary social situations and more about opportunities to use your gifts to form strong, valuable relationships.
Introverts are inherently good at research, thoughtful writing, and personal interactions, making the networking possibilities endless. You just have to be willing to prepare, push yourself, think outside the box, and let your strengths shine.
Do you have any tips on networking for introverts from your own personal experiences? We'd love to hear them!