Networking 101: A guide for introverts
I think it’s too restrictive to categorize people into categories like “introverts” and “extroverts,” but for the purpose of this article, I will put myself in the former category.
I am, and have always been, a timid person who feels extremely uncomfortable meeting new people. After attending a few FUTURE NOW events following graduation in 2020 (Zoom party, yay) with a BBA in Arts & Entertainment major from Pace University in NY, I’m now a marketing consultant for the entertainment industry.
Networking used to be a nightmare (still is?), especially since English isn’t my native language and I have a terrible accent.
I used to be afraid that people wouldn’t get me, that I would embarrass myself. I was terrified to speak in class, and the more fear took over, the less I could speak distinctively. Self-fulfilling prophecy. Not sure it’s the appropriate term but sounds like it is.
If you’re looking for tips to help you navigate a room with confidence or become a great presenter, check out the books “Networking for People Who Hate Networking” by Devora Zack or “What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People” by Joe Navarro.
You won’t find such advanced advice here. I’m not more confident speaking publicly today than I was five years ago. Nevertheless, these are the lessons I have learned while starting to build relationships, meeting new people, and expanding my network without pretending to be an extrovert.
1. Focus on building long-lasting relationships. This is something we always hear, but it doesn’t make it easier. At first, networking was uncomfortable because it felt like the goal was only to serve professional interests. It felt dishonest and weird. If you feel that way, try to behave as you would in a more informal setting, and focus on the human aspect of it. Inquire about someone’s passions, interests outside of work, etc. Plus, this is often the most interesting part of someone’s life.
2. Prepare. Before a networking event or just meeting someone new, take a minute to reflect on topics and details you can use to nurture conversations. Sometimes, you’re not even aware of all the cool things you do. Make a list of your hobbies, your favorite book or movie, a TEDtalk you found interesting. Be prepared to talk about them. The goal here isn’t to sound like a robot repeating a pre-made monologue but to feel more confident about who you are. You got this!
3. Find other ways to connect. In-person events haven’t been around for quite a while. Turn this to your advantage. Here’s an exercise I’ve recently done that ended up being SO worth it: make a list of 30 people you admire in your industry, and ask them for a (virtual) coffee meeting. You’d be surprised how many people will happily agree. Prepare 3-4 questions in advance in case there’s an awkward pause in the conversation, but let it flow naturally as much as possible.
3a. I started doing this a few weeks ago, and even started a newsletter featuring the most interesting pieces of conversation I had with people who replied back. Zoom coffees have two advantages: you can focus on ONE conversation and go deeper than the usual small talk, and you’ll make a new friend. Not just someone you said “hi” to at a conference.
3b. Remote workers: There’s a startup called Cafecito that will arrange a virtual coffee meeting for you every Monday, with another remote worker who matches your interests. You’ll have topics to talk about so it won’t feel weird. And did I mention it's free?
These few tips won’t make it suddenly easier to network, but hopefully it’s a starting point for you. This will sound cheesy but it’s true: we’re all human, and in the end, we’re no better or worse than anybody else. If you just consider networking as a way to meet awesome people and potentially collaborate on exciting projects, it will seem much more appealing. You don’t have anything to lose!