Here's How to Network Like an Extrovert if You're Shy
Oct. 11, 2017
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If you’re an introvert, chances are that just the thought of a networking event is enough to make you cringe. After all, the idea of approaching — and engaging in industry-related small talk with — strangers can make even more outgoing types apprehensive. Connecting with people for career purposes can feel forced, even awkward. Sometimes it seems safer to just avoid it entirely. But you don’t need to be a social butterfly to work a room. There are a number of introvert-friendly strategies that will allow you to make real connections and give your career a boost without forcing you too far out of your comfort zone. Here are 10 ways to network when you’d rather be doing anything but.
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Choose the right event for you.
Set yourself up for success by picking a networking event that plays to your strengths — and one that doesn’t prey on your anxieties. An open networking forum tends to put introverts at a disadvantage, explains Washington, D.C.-based certified life and career coach Lea Berry, as this type of event lacks structure and tends to be more of a free-for-all. “Instead, check out local networking groups that provide curated matches for one-on-one interactions,” she says. “You’re more apt to make a meaningful connection there than in a large room.” Clinical psychologist Natalie Dattilo, Ph.D., a self-proclaimed introvert, adds that it could be helpful to attend events at which there is a speaker scheduled or a specific topic of discussion. “That usually relieves some of the pressure because you and the others in attendance already share a common interest or experience,” she says.
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While you may not see yourself as much of a joiner, being part of a professional association or committee can be a helpful way to connect with people in your field without having to do the whole meet-and-greet rigmarole. “By volunteering, you will meet movers and shakers in the organization,” says Chicago-based psychologist Helen Odessky, Psy.D., author of “Stop Anxiety From Stopping You.” “As you share ideas in meetings, you will be able to present yourself as a knowledgeable professional and start to build relationships with the other committee members.” She explains that this strategy is a natural fit for introverts because they typically prefer to show their skills and talents rather than talk about themselves.
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Set an achievable goal.
Whatever networking setting you enter, it’s important to go into it with a plan that’s realistic and a fit for your personality. “Instead of trying to work the entire room, pick two or three people to approach,” suggests networking expert Ali Wenzke, who runs the blog The Art of Happy Moving. “If you set your goal for three five-minute conversations, you can achieve success in 15 minutes. You can do anything for 15 minutes.” Setting yourself up to meet your own expectations will make the next event less stressful.
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Use body language to make yourself more approachable.
If going up to people you don’t know and striking up a conversation sounds daunting, Wenzke suggests adopting the right stance to encourage people to come to you. “Smile, make eye contact with others and keep your arms by your side,” she says. “Open body language and confident posture will show others in the room that you are ready to talk.” If no one comes up to you, try standing next to a group with an open circle and others will include you in their conversation. (And if they don’t, you probably don’t want to get to know them anyway. Talk about rude!)
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Bring a buddy.
Going to large networking events with a friend is a really helpful way to break the ice with other people. “Especially if your pal thrives on conversation, you can spend time listening and interjecting where it feels best for you, rather than driving the whole conversation,” Berry says. Your friend doesn’t need to be in your industry or even a similar one; having him or her there is all about supporting you and making the event easier for you to handle.
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Listen more than you talk.
It’s not unlikely that you enjoy hearing what others have to say more than you do directing the conversation. This works to your advantage, Wenzke says. “The best conversationalists aren’t talkers. They’re the listeners,” she explains. “Play to your strengths with something like, ‘I’d love to hear more about the new project you’re working on. Can you tell me about it?’” People will be thrilled to fill you in on all the minute details of their life and work. Dattilo agrees that listening will help you make a great first impression. But if the person you’re chatting with is similarly introverted, you could get stuck in what seems like an awkward silence. If this happens, she suggests saying something like: “Wow, that’s really interesting. I’m just thinking about what you said. I’m curious. Can you tell me more?” It is likely then that the conversation will resume its flow quite naturally.
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Prep a list of questions.
If thinking on the spot isn’t your jam, brainstorm some thoughtful, open-ended questions to ask before you go to a networking event, meet a potential mentor for coffee or otherwise connect with other pros, suggests certified career coach Cheryl E. Palmer. “By developing questions that will be conversation starters prior to going to a networking event, you will avoid the awkwardness of gaps in the conversation,” she says. If the event that you are attending is a professional association meeting, you might ask another attendee things like, “How long have you been a member of this association?” or “How long have you been in this field?” These types of questions, she adds, open the door to you learning more about the person and takes the pressure off you to do most of the talking.
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Give yourself an out.
Because introverts are such great listeners, you may end up getting stuck in a conversation for way longer than you’re comfortable with — and this may keep you from wanting to chat up others for fear of having your ear talked off again. “Aim for no more than five or seven minutes with any single person,” Odessky suggests. “Then politely say ‘It’s been great talking with you, and I’d love to connect after the event. Can I get your business card?” This gives you an opportunity to get to know people, get more out of the networking event and extricate yourself from boring or uncomfortable situations (when necessary).
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Don’t judge your success by how many cards you pass out.
Speaking of business cards: While networking is all about making connections, you shouldn’t measure your success by how many cards you dole out or receive in return. There are other ways to get value out of connecting with other professionals. “Contrary to popular thought, you do not have to hand out your business cards to anyone, especially if it feels forced,” Dattilo says. “Occasionally, I attend an event just to practice starting conversations with strangers. This takes the pressure off and allows you to be more present in the moment.” As with anything, practice builds confidence, which will serve you more in the long run than simply passing out your information.
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Leave when you’re ready.
As with anything, it’s important to know when you’ve had enough. An introvert can very easily get fatigued by talking to strangers, and any time you spend after you’ve started to feel depleted likely won’t benefit you anyway. Even if it means that you’re spent after only 15 minutes, that’s OK. “Give yourself adequate ‘alone time’ to recover,” Dattilo says. “Then give yourself respect for doing something a little outside of your comfort zone and challenging the idea that introverts can’t reap the benefits of networking.”
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What Do YOU Think?
How do you overcome anxieties about networking? How important has networking been for your career? How do you prepare yourself of time? Let us know in the comments section!
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