Networking is one of the most important tools for the working class but not when the working class is an introvert. It’s such a difficult task for introverts to start up a conversation with people they just meet in a function or in a bus.
For several years, Micah Baldwin saw things that way. “I was horrible at networking. 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.”
But the story is no longer the same for Baldwin who has succeeded in making networking like 90% of his job as the executive director of Create33, an entrepreneurial center for tech startups in Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest.
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:
”What’s my strategy (continued) Then I ask for introductions. I keep the conversation as short as possible with the intent to lead to a conversation I can have 1on1 in a space that I am more comfortable (ex. coffee shop, office)” Baldwin said.
If you are an introvert, then make sure you keek it under 60 minutes. This is because as an introvert you lose energy when around people no matter the people they are. While extroverts gain energy when they talk too much, so for them it can be as long as possible.
“If I am there longer than an hour, I start to really lose steam. 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 said.
Baldwin’s strategy is highly structured, but as an introvert will tell you, preparation makes a whole lot of difference.
Here are some other helpful best practices for networking as an introvert or a shy person as related by other introverts:
1. Ensure that what you wear will make you stand out
Even though you may not like to wear something really crazy like Lil Wayne goes corporate corporate, it’s highly advisable to have something on you that will make you stand all out, like 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. 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,” he said
2. Concentrate on making a few contacts only
Don’t ever think you’re going to make as many connections as an extrovert will make. 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.”
3. You need to plan an event yourself
This part may not look very realistic to introverts, 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 to 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.