My name’s Jane and I’m an introvert! I don’t always enjoy being in big groups of new people, but that’s not the only way to network. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter:
1. Network in a way that suits you
There’s no need to go to big networking events if you don’t feel like it. I love smaller groups and 1:1 networking, perhaps over a coffee. I find it’s a different kind of conversation that way. I’m in a professional translators’ organisation, and when I first joined I looked up fellow member in my area and asked them if they wanted to go for coffee. Or if you’re in an online business group, find out whether anyone else in the group lives near you and see if they’d like to set up a real-life meeting.
2. Make contact in advance
If you’re going to a networking event, it may be possible to find out who else is going to be there and make contact in advance. I once went to an event that was organised on the German networking platform, Xing. I wrote to each participant in advance, a short, friendly note saying that we were going to the same event. It worked really well – at the event itself lots of people came up to me saying “You’re the one who wrote to me”. It felt good and meant that I didn’t have to do the work of approaching people. It’s the same when I go to real-life meetings with people I’ve already met in groups online. Having interacted online you already have the feeling that you have something in common.
3. Focus on something other than networking itself
For a change, instead of going to an event that’s only for networking, try something where you learn or experience something new (for example a workshop or talk). This has the advantage that the other participants probably have similar interests to you, and it’s also easier to get into conversation if you’re doing something together. The focus is no longer on the networking itself, which takes the pressure off. I once went to a networking event where we cooked together. It was great, and I met someone who’s now a regular client. I can also recommend “walk&talk” networking. You get some fresh air and exercise, and chatting and getting to know people is a bonus!
4. Stand out and be memorable
Wear something that attracts attention. A translator colleague of mine says that you should always wear pink shoes to networking events! At one event I met a cook who’d put her hair up and held it in place with a wooden spoon. It looked cool, immediately gave people an “in” – something to talk to her about – and I still remember her and her business today. I admit that “wear something that attracts attention” may not sound particularly introverted, but for me something like that which you can plan in advance is easier than going up to strangers and starting a conversation.
5. Prepare in advance
Find out as much as possible about what’s going to happen. Will there be a formal round of introductions? Will there be a presentation? Other fixed items on the programme? Will there be time for networking before or after? Will you seated at tables or can you move around and mingle?
If there’s a round of introductions: How much time will you have to introduce yourself? Plan in advance what you want to say. Write a text, polish it and learn it by heart. Practise with a timer. Really. At the beginning I found that really helpful.
If you’re feeling nervous, you could even think up a few “getting to know you” scenarios in advance and prepare a few sentences. That can help you feel more secure.
6. Think of networking as a way of meeting some friendly new people
Don’t forget: They’re only people! Don’t go in determined to tell people about your business, by try to be curious, simply getting to know new people as naturally as possible. Don’t worry about asking “banal” questions – “How did you find the presentation?” “Wow, this room is fantastic – have you been here before?”, “These chocolate biscuits are so great – would you like one?” The other person might be glad that you dared to make the first move.
7. Don’t overthink it – just jump in
Don’t wait too long to say something. With me it works better if I just start talking, without thinking too much about it. Even if it’s just “Hi, I don’t think I’ve met yet. I’m Jane”. If I wait too long I tend to start an unhelpful internal dialogue about how difficult it all is: “Come one, say something. This is ridiculous! No! Don’t say that, that sounds stupid”! That just makes things worse. Better to simply dive in and get on with it.
8. Be aware of your own needs
It’s ok to leave when you notice that your introverted heart has had enough. Only you know what’s good for you and what isn’t.