Networking is a word that often strikes fear into the hearts of introverts. The mere thought of engaging in superficial conversations with strangers in a crowded room can be daunting and seem utterly pointless. However, networking is not just about making small talk with people you may never see again. In reality, networking is a valuable skill that can open doors, create opportunities, and enrich your personal and professional life. In this article, we will explore why networking is important and provide valuable tips on how to network effectively while staying true to your introverted nature.
What is Networking?
Merriam-Webster defines networking as “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment of business”.
Networking is more than just a social activity; it is a strategic and purposeful endeavour aimed at building and nurturing connections with individuals who can provide support, knowledge, and opportunities.
Networking doesn’t exist exclusively within the realm of work. Everybody you know and interact with is part of your network, from family members to college friends, neighbours, friendly shop next door and of course, work colleagues and acquaintances.
Networking involves the exchange of information, ideas, and resources. It cultivates relationships that are mutually beneficial in personal and/or professional areas.
Networking encompasses a wide range of interactions, from casual conversations at social events to deliberate efforts to connect with like-minded professionals.
Why is Networking Important?
Networking is important for several reasons, regardless of whether you are an introvert or an extrovert.
Here are some compelling reasons for networking to be a part of your personal and professional life:
Opportunities: Networking exposes you to a wide range of opportunities that you might not encounter otherwise. Whether it's finding a new job, collaborating on a project, or discovering new hobbies, the connections you make can lead to a wide range of opportunities and new experiences.
Knowledge and Insights: Networking allows you to tap into the collective knowledge and experiences of others. You can learn from their successes and mistakes, gaining valuable insights that can help you grow personally and professionally.
Support System: Building a network provides you with a support system that can be invaluable during challenging times. You can seek advice, mentorship, and emotional support from your network when facing difficult decisions or setbacks.
Diverse Perspectives: Networking exposes you to people from diverse backgrounds, industries, and viewpoints. This diversity can broaden your horizons, enhance your creativity, and help you see things from different angles.
How to network as an introvert?
Hopefully, we’ve convinced you that networking is something that would be beneficial for you to engage in. Now here are 10 tips to help network effectively as an introvert:
1. Know Your Why: Be clear on what is your motivation
Before you dive into networking, it's essential to understand your motivations. Knowing why you want to network or why you are there will give you purpose and direction. Your motivation could be to advance your career, learn new skills, or simply expand your social circle. Identifying your "why" will help you stay committed and resist the strong urge to stay home and go to bed early with a book.
2. Set a Clear Goal
Setting a specific goal for when you’re out networking can make the process less overwhelming for introverts. For instance, you can start by aiming to connect with three persons on LinkedIn or engage in one meaningful conversation before you give yourself the green light to call it a night. Having a concrete goal provides structure and allows you to measure (and recognise) your progress.
3. Embrace Curiosity
Introverts often excel at deep, meaningful conversations, and this can be a powerful networking asset. Instead of viewing networking as a transactional process focused on what others can do for you, approach it with genuine curiosity about other people. Ask open-ended questions and actively listen to their responses. Show interest in their stories and experiences. Are you uncomfortable making it about you? Make it about them.
4. Quality Over Quantity
Don't feel pressured to collect a vast number of business cards or LinkedIn connections. Focus on building genuine relationships with people who share your interests or goals. Quality connections are more likely to lead to meaningful opportunities.
Although I may have struggled to find a picture for this article that showcased a networking event with two people engaged in a meaningful conversation, it is an absolute fact that you can have them one-on-one.
5. Prepare and Practice
Preparation can help alleviate anxiety for introverts. Before attending a networking event or meeting someone new, research the individuals or topics you'll encounter, it will help make the unfamiliar seem more familiar. Having some talking points or questions ready can boost your confidence. Practice how you introduce yourself and what you do so that it comes naturally on the day. You feel silly practicing on your own, but grateful to have done it on the day.
6. Choose the Right Networking Events
Not all networking events are created equal. Introverts may find smaller, more intimate gatherings or specialised events related to their interests more comfortable and productive. Select events that align with your goals and comfort level. And don’t discard one-on-one conversations as rightful networking opportunities!
7. Follow Up and Nurture Relationships
Networking doesn't end when you exchange contact information. After a networking encounter, take the initiative to follow up with your new connections. Send a personalised message, express your appreciation for the conversation, and stay in touch. Find ways to do this authentically. Be patient, present thoughtful.
8. Give Before You Receive
Networking is a two-way street. Instead of immediately seeking help or favours from your connections, consider how you can contribute or offer assistance and value to others. Being generous and supportive will strengthen your network and foster goodwill.
Another great way to look at this is “Pay it forward”. The person who will help you might not be the person you helped. And it really doesn’t matter one bit. Create and engage in a helpfulness circle of people genuinely happy to help.
9. Give Before You Receive
A busy and crowded room can feel overwhelming and it would be easy for an introvert to freeze under that pressure. There is an easy way to work around this though: the room is only busy when the event is in full swing.
Arrive early and you will find an empty room, with much fewer people. It is a lot easier to approach people individually when the numbers are small, and to have a proper conversation with them, even if you don't know them at all.
The added bonus? Later on, having already talked to a few people in the beginning, there will be more familiar faces to help counter the sea of strangers.
10. Manage your schedule around it
This is a work event. Treat it as you would an important meeting that you have to prepare for. That means you need time before to "get ready" mentally and physically: it can be a good idea to have a nap or a proper quiet time before, so your social batteries are fully charged for the event!
It can also be a good idea to plan an easy morning the next day: you're likely to have had less sleep, although a more draining evening than usual. Make sure to also have quiet activities the next day so you give your mind and body time to recover.
Networking doesn't have to be a daunting task for introverts. By understanding the importance of networking, setting clear goals, embracing curiosity, and leveraging your unique strengths, you can navigate the networking landscape with confidence and authenticity.
Remember that quality connections and meaningful relationships are the keys to successful networking, and introverts have plenty to offer in these areas. So, step out of your comfort zone, take small, deliberate steps, and you’ll be surprised that you find yourself networking naturally and authentically, bringing opportunities and enrichment into your life. And maybe, just maybe, enjoying it a tiny little bit.