I once went to a paid networking event where I talked to absolutely nobody and left early with tears in my eyes.
It was my first networking event ever, and I was so excited to go! I thought for sure that my enthusiasm for my business would carry me through, and I would end up with so many contacts. I didn’t even bother researching HOW to network in the first place before going-I just jumped in without looking.
And so, when I walked in and saw the room full of 200+ people all chatting together, and the heard how loud it was, I completely panicked and had no idea what to do. It was a nightmare for an introvert!
DON’T BE LIKE ME!!
Not only was I completely overwhelmed, but I was sad, frustrated, and ultimately embarrassed at my own naivete. I just expected it to work out, without putting any time or energy into prepping.
To keep you from being completely lame like I was, here are my top 5 tips for making it through a networking event as an introvert.
Think of things in advance that you can talk to people about
Generally its not a good idea to launch right into your schpiel about you and your business-you want to build rapport with people first. Ask them about themselves before you ever say anything about you.
Be curious about their family, what part of town they live in, what they like to do for fun, etc. Then you can speak about yourself and your message. Asking about them first makes it much easier because they are doing most of the speaking and carrying the conversation, which take the pressure off of you until you get to speak about your passion, which is easy!
Find out who will be there and stalk them (online)
I don’t mean this in a scary, creepy way, but most of the time you will be able to see who will be attending an event by checking out the event page or trolling social media for people talking about it.
Spend some time looking up the people you for sure want to meet, find out a little bit about them, and let that advance knowledge inform your confidence. The more you know about someone in advance, the less energy it will take from your people-reserves at the event.
Have an exit strategy
Whenever you feel like you need a people break, but you haven’t accomplished your networking goals yet, have a plan in place to get away for a few minutes and collect yourself. One of my favorite lines is, “I don’t want to keep you, there’s so many people to meet! Let’s connect later!” You could always excuse yourself to the restroom as well.
Find a place you can be alone for just a few minutes (which might actually end up being in a bathroom stall) and take some deep, cleansing breaths. Say a personal mantra a few times. I like “I am free to be myself” or “go about your way, with quiet.” You can also remind yourself that you don't necessarily have to be there as yourself. You can be there as your representative. These are restorative and calming, and I always leave my short alone time refreshed and ready to go again.
Go to small events first
Big networking events are really scary! I still get really nervous and anxious at the thought of them, because there are SO many people and its noisy and crowded and nothing at all like I would normally choose to go to.
One of the things that’s helped me most is starting small. I found a fantastic networking group in my city for entrepreneurs, and only a handful of people attend each event. I used Meetup.com to find it, but you could always Google local networking events, or even search Eventbrite.
It seems counterintuitive, because you are supposed to meet as many people as possible, right? WRONG. The goal is to make REAL CONNECTIONS. A fist full of business cards without having made a connection with someone won’t do a thing for your business.
A smaller networking event is the perfect recipe for introvert success. Even if there’s not someone at the event that seems like they would be a good fit, just practice! After a few of these, you will have more confidence to move on to bigger events!
Seek out other introverts
They are easy to find...just think about what your natural inclination is. Probably a lot like mine was at my first networking event-roaming the room with a glassy stare, stopping in corners, and just standing around waiting for someone to talk to me.
Approach them the way you would want to be approached-you might make a new friend! Plus, you can then roam the event together and tag team potential contacts. Its just easier, when you’re not alone, amiright?
Make a habit of practicing, and I promise it gets easier the more you do it. I also always make sure to get plenty of alone time the day before, and rest up, so that my energy reserves are at a peak at the event. It helps tremendously, and keeps me from crying as I leave events now.
Break free and thrive!