The job search is hard, especially for introverts who cringe at the thought of networking. For the less outgoing, attending a networking event can be like diving into a pit of snakes—scary, nerve-wracking, and the stuff of nightmares. As many as 50% of the American population self-identify as introverts, meaning you aren’t as alone as you feel. But did you know introverts are more effective leaders? And that they’re more adaptable in the workplace? Sure, the extroverts get all the attention, but there’s a place for introverts in virtually every company. If you’re headed to a business networking event and are dreading it, these networking tips for introverts can help you feel more comfortable at a networking event.
Whether you suffer from social anxiety or not, planning ahead is a great coping mechanism for those who feel nervous in social situations. Prepare some ice breakers, and focus on open-ended questions. The truth is, most people love to talk about themselves, and the more opportunity you give them to lead the conversation the less attention there will be on you. If a list of people who will be attending the business networking event is available beforehand, make a list of the ones you’d really like to connect with. Look them up online, learn about their work history, and think about ways you can make a connection. Networking for introverts doesn’t have to be scary, you just have to know how to navigate the waters.
Go with a Friend
You don’t always have to head to business networking events alone—taking a friend or colleague can make large events much less intimidating. Not only does having a conference buddy help keep you grounded, but your colleague may also be able to use his or her connections to make an introduction. One note of caution, though: you can take breaks together to recharge, but avoid clinging to them too closely. Otherwise, you defeat the purpose of networking! If you do decide to go it alone, try to reach out and make at least one connection so you’ll have someone to sit with during lunch breaks. You may be surprised at the common interests you share and, who knows, you may end of making a lifelong friend in the process.
Pay Attention to Body Language
You probably aren’t aware of this, but introverts often unconsciously send body language cues to others that they do not want to be approached. Fortunately, with a little bit of self-awareness and practice, this can be avoided. First, try to establish eye contact with people you’d like to get to know. Eye contact and a smile is a great way to let someone know that you’re open to making a connection with them. Next, leave your phone in your pocket or purse, and save your email checks and social media updates for a bathroom break or lunch. The easiest way to send the wrong signal is to isolate yourself from the rest of the attendees by staring into your phone the entire time. Finally, try sitting or standing next to someone you want to meet at lunch or during a coffee break.
Take Time to Recharge
In the days leading up to the business networking event, try to avoid large groups of people or uncomfortable social situations—otherwise you’ll feel drained and emotionally unprepared for the networking event. Chances are, you’ll feel your energy start to drain after a few hours at the networking event, so step outside for some air or steal some time to be alone if you feel this happening. Being conscious of your energy levels, and understanding how introverts recharge, can help you know when it’s time to be alone. As the day starts to wind down, don’t forget to exchange business cards, take short notes about who you met, and connect with others on LinkedIn.
Perhaps the most important “networking for introverts” tip to keep in mind is to be yourself! Not the center of the attention? That’s OK! You don’t have to pretend to be the center of attention if that’s not a role you’re naturally comfortable with. After all, extroverts need an audience for their stories and jokes. While at the event, or in any other social situation where you feel nervous, it’s important to remember that you aren’t the only person in that situation. With half of the United States identifying as being an introvert, one out of every two people at the business networking event feels just the way you do. Reach out, make friends with someone who seems just as nervous as you do, and fill them in with some networking tips on this list.