Introverts value quiet time—it's what recharges them. Introverts value in-depth conversation, but making small talk can feel draining. While we all acknowledge the importance of building a professional network, networking events can be stressful for introverts.
Even people who don't necessarily consider themselves introverts might find themselves feeling uncomfortable at the prospect of engaging with a large group of strangers. How many times have you attended a networking event only to see people from the same office interacting mainly with each other? It's our tendency to stick within our comfort zone. Here are some tips to maximize your networking opportunities:
First, have a strategy for breaking the ice. It can be intimidating to walk up to a group of people who all know each other already. All you need to do is say, "Hi! I'm ___. Do you mind if I join you?" and have some "go-to" questions to join the conversation: Ask how they know each other, what brings them to the event, and about their involvement with the organization hosting the event.
You might also look around to see who is at loose ends—who might be relieved that you took the first step. After asking where someone works, follow-up with, "What are you currently working on?" Focus on learning about the person, rather than telling them about you. And there's nothing wrong with stretching beyond work when looking for topics for conversation. "I'm new to this area of town—do you have any good restaurant recommendations in the area?" or "Have you seen much of ArtPrize yet?" might help establish common ground.
If you find networking exhausting, be efficient in how you do it. One important way to use your energy most effectively is to identify where to spend it. If possible, research who will be attending the event and think about whom you want to connect with. Do your homework, so you can reach out to those people with a quick introduction and an explanation of why you wanted to meet them. It's helpful to identify a couple of talking points that relate to their company, public affiliations, et cetera, so you can do more than just make small talk. Follow up with an e-mail, remind them of who you are and how you met, and briefly highlight how you think a connection would be mutually beneficial.
Often, introverts are strong listeners. Put that skill to good use by remembering details about people, and using those details to introduce people to each other in a meaningful way, as well as to guide conversation. People feel good when you remember them. When you can say, "The last time we spoke, you mentioned ..." or introduce them by more than just their name, it helps build a relationship.
Last, have a good exit strategy. It's one thing to maintain conversation for a few minutes, but you don't need to feel pressure to spend the entire evening with your new acquaintances, nor is it expected at a networking event. "It was nice meeting you—please excuse me while I touch base with one of my clients ... refresh my drink ... say hello to a former colleague ..." are all perfectly acceptable ways to leave the conversation.
Written by Jennifer Reynolds, staff writer for West Michigan Woman.