These days, what matters is not who you know – but who knows you. That’s why networking has become such a talking point within small business circles. Whichever point you are in your career, whether you are a business owner starting a new venture or a professional looking to expand your circle of peers, networking plays a crucial part to the success of any business and can help grow your profile; encouraging you to connect with people who may become an integral part to your business or career plans in the near future.
For many the benefits of networking are vast and I truly believe it’s worth doing. The problem is that, for those of us with introverted tendencies, networking is hell.
Networking as an introvert
I think Andrea Ayres put it brilliantly:
I’m an introvert and people scare the hell out of me.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those super shy types but I’m not one to initiate a conversation if I don’t have to. In fact, very few people are fully introverts or extroverts, instead they probably share some characteristics of both but that doesn’t make social situations any less painful for those of us who lean towards the quieter side of that spectrum.
Networking events are usually big, busy affairs with hundreds of outgoing people talking and exchanging business cards. A scene I used to both admire and detest. I’m not good at these events. They, again as Andrea put it, “scare the hell out of me”. they are draining, nerve-wracking and inevitably for me, largely ineffective.
An introverts alternative to “networking”
Disillusioned by networking events, I stumbled on a sweet spot. Back in April 2014, I was honored to be asked to speak at BrightonSEO, a big conference to around 2000 people. I was terrified as I’d never spoken at anything more than a school play before but it was too good of an offer to turn down. Leaving the stage after the talk I felt relieved that it had all gone well. I sat through the remaining talks in my section while I planned how to escape the crowds to get a coffee somewhere quiet during the break when something miraculous happened. People began to talk to me.
One of the most difficult things for a nervous introvert at a networking event is to start a conversation with a stranger. I mean, what do you say? how do you keep a conversation going with a stranger? what if they don’t want to talk to me? what if they think my opinions are stupid? – these have been real thoughts in my head at one point or another. But here I was, networking with no effort expended. The conversation flowed perfectly as they asked me to expand further on the points I had made and spoke about their own experiences with entity search. I had ended up having 5 great conversations with some really nice people I’d have never of dared to approach otherwise.
A few weeks later, I was talking again. A friend of mine was looking for speakers for the Digital Marketing Show at the ExCeL in London, and I jumped at the chance. Hoping to recreate the networking success I had achieved in Brighton, I came off stage to be greeted to a small line of people who wanted to chat to me. That’s when I knew there was something to this speaking malarkey…
After two events I had spoken to more people than I had ever spoken to at the many events I’ve been to over the years. I’ve found no more efficient way of networking as an introvert than giving a talk. I could get my point across, leave my twitter account around for other introverts to chat online, have a few conversations with people who seek me out, then head home to recharge. Bliss.
I’ve since found a wonderful book on this subject called “Presentation Skills For Introverts“ where the author, Rob Dix, gives further advice on dealing with introversion in networking situations. I highly recommend it.
Do you have any advice or tips for introverts looking to network more successfully? Give us a hand and leave a comment below!