There are a lot of stereotypes about introverts. That they just need to be tough and step out of their comfort zones. That they hate interacting with people. That they are inherently negative. That they can’t be successful in the business world. These are all myths.
Most studies agree that one in every two or three people are introverts, but what does that mean? Being an introvert is not about whether or not you like people. It’s all about interaction styles. While extroverts gain energy by being around large groups of people, introverts tend to be drained by large crowds, loud noises, and talking to people they don’t know.
Crowds, noise, and talking are basically the core elements of networking. So how do you network if you’re an introvert?
One of the best ways for introverts to connect is through online resources like email or LinkedIn. Reaching out online allows you to take time to prepare what you have to say. You don’t have to deal with awkward pauses in conversation or approaching people you don’t know. Instead, you can make connections with and reach out to hiring managers and CEOs by simply clicking a button and typing a quick message.
Sometimes you may have to network in person as well as online. Small talk can be awkward and difficult. Try to stick to topics you know so you don’t have to fumble for things to say or mention the weather a thousand times. Though it doesn’t usually come naturally to introverts, talking about yourself is a way to promote yourself and gives you a topic you know a lot about. That doesn’t mean that you need to dominate the conversation. Ask questions and be interested in other people, but don’t be afraid to talk about yourself.
It’s always hard to figure out what you want to do with your life, so it’s best to do all the research and soul-searching beforehand instead of when the CEO of your dream job asks you about it at a networking event. Write down a few, specific goals for your future that you can talk about in 30–60 seconds. Try to memorize them so you can whip them out whenever you need to.
It’s easiest to tackle networking with a buddy, so either come with a buddy or find a person you can stick with. Your old or new friend may know who is who and be able to show you around. If not, you two can split the work and take turns introducing each other, which at least gives you an intro to conversations and gives you some comfort and support.
Being approachable is all about body language. It might seem cliché or forced, but putting on a casual smile when you make eye contact with people can go a long way. People may not want to talk to you if you look aloof or angry. Try not to fold your arms or appear closed off. Instead, try to relax your shoulders, stand up straight, and hold something small in your hands to give them something to do. Be calm and comfortable without being too casual.
People are usually flattered when you remember them. Also, keeping connections can help give you later connections. When you meet someone, try repeating his or her name in your head several times. Use the name in conversation occasionally to solidify your memorization and because people love hearing their names out loud. Business cards are a good way to remember people, and they also give you contact information if you want to connect with people later.
Introverts are usually drained after spending long periods of time with big groups of people, so try taking some breaks. Excuse yourself to go to the bathroom for a little while to recover if you need to. Take a walk around the hallways and come back into the room. You don’t have to meet everyone at once. Break it into chunks.
Introverts are usually pretty good at people watching. If socializing doesn’t come naturally to you, watch and learn from the pros. Sometimes just sitting back and watching the social butterflies do their thing can give you some ideas on how to approach people and use small talk to their advantage.
It might sound silly, but doing a trial run with a friend or coworker can help you not panic when the time comes to actually network. Like the goals, figuring out basic phrases or questions can add to your networking toolbox. Practice might not make your networking entirely perfect when the nerves kick in, but it can definitely help.
Jenny is a content writer for ZipBooks and a graduate student at Brigham Young University.