Networking events can be an introvert’s worst nightmare. On one hand, they can be essential to success. On the other, however, they can be unfriendly reminders of an introvert’s individualistic nature. While most introverts don’t necessarily have social anxiety, their introspective and reticent personalities means they’re often unaccustomed to large social scenarios.
Small talk is just a little harder and being around big groups of people is just a little more intimidating than it may be for extroverts and ambiverts. For this reason, an introvert’s best bet when tackling a networking event is to be prepared.
There are a number of practical tips that can make networking events more tolerable for introverted personalities.
1. Use a business card or freebie as a conversation starter
Hardly anyone knows how to properly introduce themselves or briefly summarize their interests. This is why first dates are such an uncomfortable experience. However, starting a conversation doesn’t have to be left up to you, especially if you don’t have the “gift of gab.”
Business cards are a great way to start a conversation. They concisely summarize what you do, what your name is, and how you can be reached, allowing you to skip past the small talk. If you have an e-book, a resource guide, or other informational material you can hand out as freebies, these work too.
Not only will starting the conversation with a gift open that person up to you, but it will give them an opportunity to better understand your field of expertise. You can also pop some resources, your contact info, and other free materials onto flash drives and hand them out. Think of this as a more detailed business card.
This way, they can get to know your work a little better and contact you through a medium that may be more comfortable for you, such as email or social media.
2. Work up a script
Having a script will eliminate the awkwardness of making conversation with strangers. It also ensures you touch on all the points you want to. Make sure your script sounds natural, or you will become even more self-conscious over the encounter.
You might even consider practicing in front of a mirror to increase your level of ease. Introverts are typically at ease around groups of people they know, but unknown people and situations are what create discomfort. Having the familiarity of a script will eliminate part of this discomfort with the unknown.
If a script is too much for you to memorize, brainstorm some key words, phrases, or sentences that you can use to describe yourself or your business. You can also prep your answers for questions you know that people around bound to ask. Most important of all, however, make sure you’ve got your introduction/opening line down to a tee. Introductions are often the most stress-inducing.
3. Find a networking “buddy”
Networking events are much less intimidating with someone you know. Additionally, working together as a team can actually improve your prospect of making successful connections. By attending a networking event with a friend or colleague, you can work off of each other’s strengths.
Consider seeking out an extroverted personality to attend the event with you. They’ll be comfortable initiating the conversation, while you make sure to drive it forward. The dichotomy will also make your pitch much more interesting.
4. Use honesty as an ice-breaker
Candidness is underrated. More often than not, people are appreciative of someone that openly expresses how they’re feeling. Consider starting the conversation with your honest interpretation. You can say something like:
“Sometimes I find networking events a little nerve-wracking, so I apologize if I seem anxious. I never fail to meet the most interesting people at these things, though! Tell me a little bit about yourself.”
Half of our nervousness stems from worry over appearing nervous. We dread the shaky voice, sweaty palms, and trembling smile. By addressing this right away, you’ll be less focused on how you’re perceived, and more focused on the conversation at hand. Chances are, too, you’ll come across someone who feels the same way and is grateful for your candor.
5. Focus on one-on-one connections
Introverts are often far more comfortable with one-on-one settings than large groups of people. To some introverts, this may seem like a weakness, but it’s actually a major strength. Particularly when networking and formulating important connections, people want to see that you’re interested in providing individual attention.
Next time you find yourself at a networking event, aim to approach individuals as opposed to groups. That way, you may even find someone to buddy up with who will make approaching groups easier.
Introversion should never serve as an obstacle toward furthering your career goals and aspirations, particularly where making connections is involved. By learning how to hone and attend to your introverted nature, you may even be able to make the deepest connections of all.