5 networking tips for introverts
This post was originally published in 2013.
If you haven't been on the Internet lately, introverts — those among us who expend energy around other people and recharge by being alone — are speaking up. A rash of articles broke out on social media this fall with headlines like "31 Unmistakable Signs that You're an Introvert," "10 Myths About Introverts" and "7 Positives Only Introverts Would Understand."
But the biggest influencer on America's introversion conversation is perhaps Susan Cain, an author whose "manifesto" lists one point particularly relevant to young professionals:
"Rule of thumb for networking events: One genuine new relationship is worth a fistful of business cards."
Networking events can be awkward for anyone. For introverts like Ryan Hervey, they can feel like a gauntlet of strangers and small talk, he said.
"I couldn't stress enough that I look for the fastest way to get through small talk," said Hervey, a financial adviser in West Des Moines. The 36-year-old began his professional life years ago as a private practice attorney. He left the job, in part, because of the intensive networking it required, he said.
Romelle Slaughter, a 37-year-old introvert, is a common attendee at Des Moines YP and networking events, despite a self-professed anxiety around the sort of social interactions networking events promote.
"Small talk to me still feels like hell," said Slaughter, who works in insurance.
The key to networking for introverts lies in sidestepping small talk and identifying real, meaningful connections with others, Slaughter and Hervey said.
Here's their advice:
1. Leverage social media: Network through people you already know, using social media to see what connections you might share with someone you wish to meet. Use Facebook events to identify people you already know going to an event, too, Slaughter said. "If I know who's going to it as well, I will send them a message. If that person says, yeah, then we're basically networking wing buddies."
2. Rule of ones and threes: At networking events, approach an individual person or a group of three or more. Never approach groups of two, which are usually in deep conversation. "You automatically introduce awkwardness,' Hervey said.
3. Stay in the know: Bone up on a YP organization or particular event before attending and stay abreast on Iowa and Iowa State sports as well as area business news. All are instant small talk topics, Slaughter said.
4. Encourage big talk: Introverts crave substantial connections, Hervey said. If someone mentions being swamped at work, ask what effect it has on their relationships, Hervey said: "It will either go deeper or that will lead them to stop talking to me."
5. Focus on others: It gets better. As you grow in your career, professional insecurities typically decrease, Hervey said. And if talking makes you nervous, let the extroverts do all the work. "I've have always felt as an introvert, our best skill is listening," Slaughter said.
How do you network as an introvert? Share your tips.