Networking that works for Introverts

by | Jan 30, 2021 | Business conversations, Networking, Selling

It is a myth that just because some people are ‘born networkers’, others are doomed to fail at networking. In my work with hundreds of people, all of whom are individuals with different strengths, challenges, tastes and fears… I have seen that building quality relationships to benefit your business or career is important to and attainable for everyone!

My personal journey in learning to ‘network’

I don’t much like neat little labels, but if I had to describe my personality, I would say that I am an ‘extroverted introvert’ – that is, while I like being social and meeting new people, at my foundation I am someone who needs lots of alone time and who often feels drained after being with people, even if I have enjoyed the interaction. I am better at having an in-depth conversation with someone about an interesting topic, rather than trying to make light chit-chat with a bunch of strangers. I have been told I am ‘direct’ and ‘down to business’ and that I don’t always remember the details about people’s personal lives! Growing up, I was a very shy little girl who had to learn to come out of her shell in order to achieve the things she wanted to… and sometimes it still feels like that.

Networking has been instrumental to my ability to succeed in changing careers and building two businesses. I had to learn how to make it work for me, and now I am very clear about the choices I make and the actions I take before, during and after networking, to make it impactful and enjoyable.

I don’t think others would be able to tell from my networking style that I once found it scary and hard. That’s why I’m passionate about sharing solutions with so many others who have found networking to be a challenge. This is also one of my very favourite speaking topics… I love to share this story and to chat about why we often find networking so ‘icky’!

Below: 3 key things you need to know as an ‘introverted’ networker…

There are different activities that can be classed as ‘networking’

Networking can work for everyone… but it’s not about doing the same activities as someone else just because that is what you are ‘supposed’ to do. If you are not someone who is going to be confident walking into a crowded cocktail event full of people you don’t know, then you need to either have specific techniques that will help you navigate the cocktail party, or you need to find other more worthwhile activities for you! After all, if you aren’t leaving a confident impression, it’s hard for people to have confidence in you.

“If you are not someone who is going to be confident walking into a crowded cocktail event full of people you don’t know…”

I prefer to call it ‘network-building’ because it can (and should) combine a combination of activities that makes sense for you and the people you are hoping to add to your network.

Network-building can consist of many things outside of a crowded cocktail event. You could:

  • Find alternative networking experiences e.g. business book club, discussion groups, committees, volunteering.
  • Start your own ‘walk and talk’ with friends and have each invite another person. Moving while talking helps ideas to flow and breaks the ice, and being in your active wear helps keep it casual.
  • Join forces with 1 or 2 colleagues to create a quarterly, intimate ‘random dinner’ – each person invites someone new and the location of the dinner is announced at the last minute, for a bit of mystery and fun!
  • Choose a breakfast or lunch with smaller numbers and a speaker, rather than an evening cocktail event which has less structure and means you may arrive tired at the end of a long work day.
  • Take a client out to lunch once a month at your preferred restaurant.
  • Coffees and phone calls are still networking – it’s about a plan to keep relationships moving forward. Plan to do a call, Zoom or coffee at least once a week and think about the style of the interaction – do you want to simply catch up and exchange news, do a progress check-up, or ask specific questions to find something out about the person’s work or industry?

Confidence matters in networking

Appearing confident (not egotistical, but quietly confident) will mean you can easily start to build trust with new acquaintances.

Confidence comes from being prepared with a plan that feels right for you, even if a little outside of your comfort zone. It also comes from experience – in other words, practice – of techniques and skills that will help your communication and connection with others. These techniques can be learned!

You can approach your chosen networking activities in ways that suit your personality and make you feel prepared, for example:

  • Getting to an event early before there are loads of people in the room, and leaving early when you are tired.
  • Plan conversations and meetings with a loose framework, so that you can guide them with confidence towards a purposeful outcome that benefits all parties, while feeling natural.
  • Have quality conversation starters up your sleeve to break the ice.
  • Take notes to make your next conversation easier to flow into (and to remember personal details!).
  • Work on your personal brand and understand first impressions. They not only make a difference to how others see you, but to how you feel.
  • Prepare and practice a positioning statement for introductions – not a rote-learned elevator pitch, but some key points you want to hit to clearly communicate what you do and for whom.

Your networking plan should be created specifically for you

While there are helpful frameworks and planning tools out there for building great business relationships and networks, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’. You can start with a flow chart or plan that makes sense to you, but the detail you fill in, such as the language you’ll use in an introductory email, what conversations you will have, and what your follow up steps will be, should be mapped out with sensitivity to your style and the needs and expectations of your target audience.

“The detail (of your networking plan) should be mapped out with sensitivity to your style and the needs and expectations of your target audience.”

I heard a great saying this week that ‘Lies feel heavy, the truth feels light.’ If you are being encouraged to execute networking or business development activities that don’t feel right for you, you will certainly feel a heaviness! Ultimately, it won’t work.

That doesn’t mean you should just avoid the goals of networking and building key relationships in business – so finding the right method for you and communicating that to your team may help you to move forward with these important goals.