Hi! My name is Natalie, and I hate networking.
True story: I went to an event at a co-working space a few months ago. There was a bit of networking at the beginning, during which I was, conveniently, “catching up on work”. Then the speakers did their speaking, which was great. Then the organizers said,
“Okay, now we’ll do half an hour more of networking before the second half of the event!”
I hadn’t been having a great day to begin with. And at this point, the words “life is short” and “hot bath” filtered through my brain. And before I knew it, I had packed my bag, grabbed my coat and raced – like, speed-walking fast – out the door.
But that’s not a tactic that’s going to work in my favor most of the time.
Since then, I’ve been working on upping my networking game. Networking shouldn’t be about forcing yourself to be someone you’re not. It should be about using your strengths, and recognizing your limits. If you’re on the introvert spectrum, maybe my “networking for introvert” tips will help you too.
1. Be Vulnerable
I recently attended an event where we were given “Hi! My name is…” stickers, and instructed to write “something I want to let go of” on them.
I wrote “small talk”.
It probably scared some people away. But it definitely attracted people that I connected with, and aren’t they who I want to be talking to, anyway? It surprises me how many people admit to hating small talk, despite it being seemingly integral to our cultural fabric. But try starting a conversation with big talk, or just turning to the person next to you and being raw or real in a funny way. It’s so much more gratifying and energizing than talking about the weather, or pretending to be interested in something I’m not. I’ll say it again: life is short.
2. Structure It Up
Find networking events that have built-in networking components, so you’re not left to your own devices. At a women’s business breakfast I went to, everyone got 30 seconds to introduce themselves and their business, and then everyone else weighed in with suggestions on how you could achieve the thing your business needed most. It was a huge relief to me, and I left feeling supported and encouraged, rather than overwhelmed and like a social failure.
3. Go Small
That same event had us seated at smaller tables, i.e. 4 strangers rather than 30. After the initial awkwardness wore off, I had more chats with more people than I usually do, and got tons of advice and offers to help. Much easier to handle than a giant room with 400 people in it.
4. Speaking of Awkward…
Unless a miracle strikes, I’m never going to breeze into a networking event with confidence radiating out of my eyeballs. So rather than berate myself, I’ve learned to embrace it. My heart is always in my throat when I pull up into the parking lot. But I’m learning to say hello to this feeling, and be kind to it, and understand that it will pass, eventually. Or it won’t and I’ll run out of there like my ass is on fire. And that’s fine, too.
5. Get Outside Your Box
We often think of networking as being among peers: people in similar fields and similar age groups.
Back to the women’s networking breakfast: most of these ladies were older or younger than me, and almost all of them were in industries I knew nothing about. Chatting over pancakes with a life coach, a Reiki practitioner and a mortgage broker of different generations was not only easy and interesting, it opened up my world – and my business reach.
6. Buddy Up
I bet you have a friend who could not only strike up a conversation with a mailbox, but get it to give him its email address. Bring this person to networking stuff. Bribe them with donuts if you must. They will do the stuff you find tough, and then you can do what you’re good at: intimate, one-on-one conversations. (Or scurry off to get more coffee without anyone noticing.) One caveat: this person needs to understand your introversion, and not hold it against you. Otherwise, no donuts for them.
7. Fake It Till You Make It (and set achievable goals)
You’re outside an event. You know no one, which means no one would care if you left. But you say to yourself, “I’m _____ (your name), I’m outgoing and love talking to strangers!”
Promise yourself you only have to speak to one person. Then go inside and do just that. Before you know it, you might end up talking to three. (Bonus points!) They don’t have to be your new best friends. You don’t have to strike any deals. You did what you came to do, and now you can retire with takeout and Netflix or a book and feel awesome about yourself.
8. Be Networking-Accountable
A friend and I agreed to attend three networking events a month. When we go to one, we check in with each other, laugh about it if it was awkward, and share victories if we made a good connection with someone, professionally or otherwise. Bonus: she’s someone I can be honest with about how hard networking is for me.
9. Charge Your Own Damn Batteries
The first conference I ever attended was in Quebec City. I was put up in a stunning historical hotel. Every day was full of talks and workshops and amazing meals. And, thank god, a week previously, I’d read the book Quiet.
That book gave me permission to do something I would have done anyway (but felt guilty about): every afternoon, after lunch, I went back to my lovely room, and lay down in my cushy hotel bed. I meditated. I journaled. I took a nap. By evening, I was ready to do dinner and whatever social stuff followed. Otherwise, I would have burnt out by Day Two. (I was still glad it was only a 3-day conference.)
10. Yay You!
While the extroverts hold court amongst the masses, we introverts can often be found having a long conversation with one person, usually in a corner of the room. Celebrate that. You’ve probably told by friends that they feel heard when they talk to you, or that they feel like they can be themselves with you. These attributes are just as important as being able to chat confidently to a group of strangers.
You have valuable gifts to offer. Never forget that.
And when you’ve really had enough, go home and take a bath. There will always be another networking event. There is only one you.
Chief Executive Copywriter / Other Token Canadian
Natalie is Flauk’s storyteller and punctuation nerd. She’s also an author, podcaster, and award-winning scriptwriter.