An Introvert’s Survival Guide for Networking Events
Many introverts, myself included, don’t think of networking as their strong suit. But you don’t need to be a social butterfly to network. In fact, the networking I’ve gotten the most out of involves deep one-on-one connections, not immense popularity. And introverts can be great at that. Here are some networking tips that have helped me take advantage of my introversion, not overcome it — because it doesn’t need to be overcome.
1. Have people hold you accountable for showing up.
I almost backed out of my first tech industry meet-up out of shyness. But my brother pointed out that I’d already paid for the ticket and the hosts were expecting me, so I sucked it up and went. If you think there’s a chance you’ll get cold feet, buy a ticket or at least RSVP so you feel accountable.
2. Arrive early.
Walking into a room where everyone knows someone except you is every shy person’s worst nightmare. To avoid the need to butt into a circle of people who have already met, get there early. When there are only a few people in the room, everyone’s forced to talk to everyone, which makes those initial introductions far less intimidating.
3. Remember, you don’t need a reason to talk to someone.
It might normally feel weird to go up to a random person and say “hi,” but that’s what networking events are for. During my first networking event, I just stood there in the corner with a drink until someone said “hi” to me. Then I was like, “oh, it’s OK to do this.” This is one setting where it’s normal to talk to strangers. People aren’t going to judge you. They’re here to do the exact same thing.
4. Prioritize longer chats with fewer people.
A lot of people treat networking like musical chairs, spending five or ten minutes with each person and then moving on to the next. These people may leave with a long list of email addresses, but those won’t lead to many meaningful relationships. What’ll ultimately help you in your career and in life is not adding more LinkedIn connections but expanding the circle of people who actually care about you.
5. Ask lots of questions.
In environment where everyone’s selling themselves, quiet people can be a breath of fresh air. A lot of attendees are dying to talk about themselves, so if you give them that opportunity, they’ll already like you. Ask them about their career path, their hobbies, or just how their day was. Look for something you have in common, then ask more questions about that. That way, when you do talk about yourself, you’ll be connecting with them, not just talking at them.
6. Make plans to meet again.
It’s the deep connections that really matter in the long-run, so if you have one with someone, get their contact info and invite them to coffee or a drink. When you meet up, ask them more questions about themselves. After your second meeting or so, you can ask them to connect you with others who might help you. People won’t mind as long as you’re really in it for the friendship as well as the professional benefits — and the professional benefits are mutual.
7. Cultivate friendships.
If you build genuinely strong friendships, you barely need to network, because you’ll get to know your friends’ friends naturally. If you make friends with a founder, for example, chances are they’re friends with other founders, and you’ll eventually end up meeting them. If you don’t actually want to be friends with someone, don’t practice this kind of networking with them. People can tell when they’re being used.
8. Network online.
When you’re just not up for socializing, you can network without leaving your couch. If there’s a company you’re a fan of, find people who work there on social media, engage with them by commenting on their posts or retweeting their tweets, and start a private conversation if they engage back. Once you have a rapport, write something like, “I’d like to ask you something. Would you mind if I sent you an email?” Don’t feel bad about it — they’ll probably appreciate your directness.
Don’t worry: If you dread networking events, it’s not just you. They can be full of pretension, artificiality, and overall awkwardness. But you can participate without buying into that culture. In fact, you’ll be a breath of fresh air — because you may be surprised how many people hate it just as much.
You don’t have to walk around delivering an elevator pitch about yourself to network. Instead of wearing yourself out with this shallow kind of interaction, form relationships that’ll sustain and energize you. One friendship is worth a million business cards.