Networking might be the closest thing to hell for an introvert. The goal, seemingly, is to make as many business contacts as possible, but that’s not easy when it involves some of the most daunting tasks for introverts: small talk, quick conversation and interacting with large crowds that drain your energy.
For years, that’s how Micah Baldwin saw things. “I was horrible at networking,” he told HuffPost. “I would go to events and stand in the corner, afraid to talk to anyone. I would get there late and leave early. It was difficult to get any value out of networking.”
These days, Baldwin can’t make a beeline to the nearest corner: He’s the executive director of Create33, an entrepreneurial center for tech startups in Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest. Networking is now about 90% of his job, he said.
How does he get it done? He goes in with a very detailed game plan, which he recently shared on Twitter:
Basically, he segments the room into just a few groups: people he wants to talk to, people he’s already friends with and people he doesn’t want to talk to. (For a more detailed breakdown of the groups, check out his Twitter feed.) Then, he uses those existing friendships to make inroads with new people. We’ll let Baldwin explain:
Keeping it under 60 minutes is vital: If you’re an introvert, you lose energy being around others, even if you’re in the company of friends you enjoy. (Extroverts, meanwhile, gain energy from interacting with people. Must be nice!)
In just an hour, Baldwin can make a couple of quality connections and hang out with friends, all while preserving his introvert energy.
“If I am there longer than an hour, I start to really lose steam,” he said. “Giving myself focus allows me to move from conversation to conversation, connecting with the right people in rapid succession and not getting caught in a long drawn-out interaction.”
Baldwin’s strategy is highly structured, but as any introvert will tell you, preparation makes a world of difference.
What are some other best practices for networking as an introvert (or just a shy person)? Below, networking pros (yes, obviously we had to ask an extrovert) and introverts alike share more tips.
1. Put your unrivaled introvert listening skills to use
Active listening comes naturally to introverts. Use that to your advantage. If you’re genuinely interested in what someone has to say, they’ll remember you; everyone wants to think their hot takes on work, politics or pop culture are interesting and important.
“Most networkers spend their time trying to be interesting, talking about themselves or bigging themselves up,” said Stefan Thomas, the author of “Business Networking for Dummies” and an introvert. “Because introverts don’t want to shout about ourselves, we can use our energy to instead be genuinely interested in the people around us.”
“We ask questions, develop a genuine interest for others and, most importantly, keep in touch in the medium or long term,” he explained.
2. Wear something that makes you stand out
While you don’t want to arrive looking like Lady Gaga goes corporate, it pays to have something on you ― a cute Etsy pin, for instance, or an interesting phone case ― that could help someone break the ice with you, said extrovert Michael Solomon, the founder of tech talent agency 10x Management & 10x Ascend.
“Four times a year, I need to wear a Fitbit for a cardiac study,” he told us. “I end up wearing it on my Apple watch and people inevitably ask me what it is and why I am wearing two fitness products. Once that happens, the door is open and I am in.”
3. Focus on making only a few contacts and play the long game
You’re never going to make as many connections as an extrovert does. But while they’re peeking over someone’s shoulder, looking for their next big catch, you’re homing in on one person and hopefully really getting a sense of whether they could be beneficial to your career path.
Again, the goal is to focus on quality, not quantity, and then play a long game by following up in a meaningful way, Thomas said.
“Make what you do after the event at least as important as what you do when you meet someone,” he said. “In the email, remind them of the conversation you had, without feeling the necessity to sell to them or overly promote yourself.”
4. Plan an event yourself
This tip doesn’t make sense on the surface; it sounds like a huge undertaking for someone who has limited energy to give to networking. But think about it: When you organize an industry get-together (even a small, intimate one), you interact with key players in your field and show that you’re engaged in your community. At the actual event, you’ll be too busy running the thing to resort to your usual approach of hiding in a corner with a friend.
It’s a strategy that’s worked for Anna Runyan, an introvert and the CEO of Classy Career Girl, a website for women entrepreneurs.
“I’ve hosted many events here in San Diego just by inviting other women on LinkedIn to come talk about how to be successful as female leaders,” she said. “I knew everyone who was coming and they knew me beforehand, so it was easier to prepare and connect right away.”
So you get credit for hosting and you get to prepare for small talk in advance? Sounds like an introvert’s dream to us.