By Jacqueline Whitmore
Introverts are often reluctant to participate in professional networking opportunities. A room filled with dozens of other people engaged in small-talk can make an introvert feel overwhelmed and exhausted.
There’s a common misconception that introverts are simply shy, but that’s not always the case. Instead, introverts are typically more reserved, introspective and quiet. An extrovert will likely feel energized after social interaction, but an introvert may feel he or she needs time alone to “recharge.”
Effective networking requires practice before it becomes second nature — you must see and be seen. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be the center of attention or captivate an entire crowd with your best joke. If you’re introverted, don’t try to act like an extrovert. Instead, play to your strengths and find the best networking opportunities for your personality.
Here are 8 helpful tips to master your mingle-ability.
- Set reasonable expectations.Don’t measure the success of your networking based on one event. Instead, set long-term goals and evaluate the effectiveness of networking over several months. Even the most skilled networkers won’t engage in 20 meaningful interactions throughout the course of one night. Instead, set out to connect with one or two individuals at each event you attend.
- Plan ahead.A little preparation will go a long way toward making you feel more confident. Spend an hour or two to prepare some icebreakers ahead of time. Most professionals love to speak about themselves. Open-ended questions will allow conversation to flow smoothly and organically. Ask questions like, “Are you a member of the host organization?” or “Tell me, what’s the best aspect of your job?”
- Decide how long to stay.Set a time limit for how long you plan to stay at an event. When you decide how much time you’re willing to commit, you’ll feel less intimidated. Plan for at least 20-30 minutes to give yourself time to locate your nametag, get something to drink, and meet at least one new professional acquaintance. You may find you want to stay longer after you’ve had a few minutes to adjust to the busy environment.
- Find a common acquaintance.If you plan to attend a networking event and would like to meet a particular person, try to find someone who knows just about everyone in the room (also known as a “connector”) and ask him to introduce you. This kind of connection is more productive than if you were to approach someone out of the blue.
- Show off your empathetic listening skills.This is where introverts shine. Because introverts tend to be more introspective, they are often excellent listeners. When someone speaks, be fully engaged. When he or she finishes, respond with thoughtful remarks.
- Push outside your comfort zone.Conversations flow naturally when both individuals participate. Personal stories are a great way to connect with your peers and build professional relationships. A conversation can quickly feel like an interrogation if you ask plenty of questions but never open up about yourself.
- Challenge yourself.If you still feel extremely nervous or unsure, practice networking in low- or no-risk situations. Attend a networking event where you likely won’t know anyone. It will remove the pressure and allow you to experiment with new conversation-starters and stories.
- Practice. Make small steps through frequent practice. As time goes on, you’ll become increasingly comfortable sharing your true personality while networking. Even everyday opportunities to be social — like a quick walk with a colleague or a professional luncheon — can help you become a more effective networker.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an international etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach and the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals. Visit her website at www.EtiquetteExpert.com.