On the outside, I don’t look like an introvert at all. I spent nearly 15 years as a frontline fundraiser, and have logged thousands of calls and meetings with people I don’t know. I’m constantly putting myself out there, whether through The Enliven Project’s infographic that was heard around the world, or by sharing my trials and tribulations pumping breastmilk.
Despite the recent popularity of the term “introvert,” there are still a lot of misconceptions about us. Namely, that we are quiet, shy, and don’t like being around people. This just isn’t the case. Introverts simply derive energy from inside of themselves, rather than from interacting with other humans.
At heart, I’m an introvert. Nothing comes out of my mouth unless I’ve thought about it first. Being around groups of people drain my energy, but meaningful conversations feed my soul. I love, love, love to watch TV at the end of a long day. And my dad is an MBTI expert, and first confirmed my introversion at age 7.
But because I’ve spent so much time in an extravert’s world, navigating an extraverted career path, I have a particular perspective on networking as an introvert. (By the way, there are also a ton of misconceptions about networking, a topic for another day. A lot of people think it’s having schmoozy, boozy conversations with a bunch of people at events – not true at all!)
Introverts bring a particular set of strengths to networking, and by embracing them, leveraging them, and building on them in authentic ways, you can network with the best of them – and still be exactly who you are.
Here are some tips and suggestions for how to approach networking as an introvert:
- Embrace Google stalking. I hate talking to strangers, so I research everyone I’m going to meet before showing up at an event. Then I can target people who I think are actually interesting, know what connections or themes we might have in common, and recognize them in a crowded room too.
- Cut the small talk. A typical first conversation involves several back-and-forth exchanges including name, where you live, and what you do. What a boring waste of valuable conversation energy! If you cover the basics in your introduction – and bonus for throwing in that you are an avid cycler, passionate climate activist, or cupcake baker, you can move on to more interesting things like the meaning of life. Or just have a shorter conversation all together.
- Ask meaningful questions. Small talk is the worst. Ask interesting and meaningful questions instead. When I was touring colleges, I asked what kind of shoes people wore on campus. It always started interesting discussions about campus culture, cliques, and diversity – and got the conversation quickly beyond small talk. If you are really hesitant about talking, just write the question on your nametag – people will bring it up on their own!
- Make introductions to others. I am far more comfortable when I have a role at an event. Sometimes, if I am in a room with a bunch of people, I take it upon myself to make introductions. Then I can just take a break and listen for a while.
- Jump in, and don’t be sorry. Extraverts interrupt people. A lot. And don’t notice they are doing it. If you are talking to an extravert, this may be the only way you get a word in edgewise.
- Get a pet extravert. Extraverts are like puppies. They gallop up to the first people they see, slobber on them, cuddle, sometimes pee on the floor, and move on. If you have a friend who is a raging extravert, tag along with the in a room full of people you might want to meet. They can break the ice, and you can dive right in.
- Set realistic networking goals – and then go home. You are not going to talk to 50 people in an evening. Not possible. Set a goal for 2-3 meaningful conversations, and know that substance measures up against volume of connections in the long run.
- You actually don’t have to talk to people – at all. If there was someone you wanted to meet but didn’t feel like breaking in to a conversation, try social media or email to follow up. “Hi, I didn’t want to interrupt your conversation last night but was hoping to connect with you about XYZ. Maybe we could find a time for tea?” This works especially well for panelists and speakers.
I strongly believe that the universe looks out for us and connects us to the people we are meant to meet. You don’t need a network of thousands to have a successful career. What other networking tips do you have with introverts in mind? Let us know in comments!