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For an introvert, networking can often be a Herculean task. Unfortunately, networking is one of the most crucial undertakings a young professional can perform; developing relationships with people in powerful positions can lead to great job opportunities for you, as well as some valuable learning experiences. However, introverts generally find social situations to be a huge drain on their energy. Meeting new people in venues with lots of stimuli can be far out of their comfort zones. The business world wrongly values extroverts over introverts, but that doesn’t mean that you have to give up who you are in order to succeed at networking.

The first step towards better networking is to embrace your introversion. Lisa Petrilli, author of The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership, advises introverted people to accept and appreciate their nature rather than fight it: “I have met so many introverts in business who talk about introversion as if it’s a malady that one must get over in order to be successful. This is wrong.” It may seem like the business world only values those who are consistently outspoken and social, but in reality, many of our most admired leaders are introverts: President Barack Obama, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, and Gandhi all make the list. In fact, research has found that introversion is actually a desirable trait for a leader to have, as they are more likely to let their employees take initiative.

Once you’ve embraced your introversion, you can better understand the elements in your life that give you energy or drain you of it – then you can play to those strengths in any business situation. Here are a few other helpful types for breaking out of your comfort zone and working towards better networking:

  1. Arrive at the event on time. If you arrive late, the chances are that people have already divided up into groups to talk. It’s much harder to break into an already “established” group than to be there when they form.
  2. Try to talk to people one-on-one rather than in a small group. Socializing with less people at a time will help you conserve your energy. It will also help you develop a better and more lasting relationship with that individual.
  3. Conduct some of your networking online. If someone you’d like to meet will be attending the same event as you, contact them first through LinkedIn to tell them you look forward to meeting them. Doing so can create an easy ice-breaker for when you meet them in person.
  4. Believe that what you have to say is valuable. Being afraid to initiate a conversation with someone new isn’t the sole domain of introverts, but it is a common networking problem. Try to overcome your insecurity that whomever you want to talk to will not be interested in holding a conversation with you. For all you know, they may be worried about the same thing.
  5. Have a question or conversation ideas in mind before you start talking to someone new. This tip is generally portrayed as geeky or socially awkward in TV or movies, but knowing what you’re going to say ahead of time can help make you feel more confident.
  6. Create your own networking situations. Networking is all about forging connections – that doesn’t need to be done at a large conference or business situation. You can do it through activities you already participate in, such as clubs, groups, organizations, or even online communities. Any place where you can establish a professional relationship is great for networking.
  7. Don’t push yourself too hard. It’s great to get out of your comfort zone, but you don’t have to dive into the deep end of the pool. Know your limits. You’re not failing at networking if you need to take baby steps.
  8. Take breaks when you need to. Networking events are commonly very boisterous and demanding for an introvert. You are allowed to sneak out for a 10-minute break if you’re feeling a little drained.
  9. When you need to take a break, or even if the conversation is awkwardly dying down, have a line prepared to help you get out of the situation. Tell the person you are talking to that you don’t want to take up too much of their time or that you loved talking to them, but you want to meet more people. Stay polite and professional. Then ask them for their business card.
  10. Always ask for a business card and always follow up with your newfound connections soon after the event. Without the follow-up, all of your hard work is next to useless. A simple email or LinkedIn connection request the next day will suffice.

How do you network as an introvert? Be sure to share in the comments below!

Sources:

Petrilli, Lisa. “An Introvert’s Guide to Networking.” http://blogs.hbr.org/2012/01/the-introverts-guide-to-networ/. (1 April 2014).

“Analyzing Effective Leaders: Why Extraverts Are Not Always the Most Successful Bosses.” http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/analyzing-effective-leaders-why-extraverts-are-not-always-the-most-successful-bosses/. (2 April 2014).

Brooks, Katharine. “Networking 101 for Introverts.” http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/career-transitions/201010/networking-101-introverts. (2 April 2014).

Townsend, Maya. “The Introvert’s Survival Guide to Networking.” http://www.inc.com/maya-townsend/introvert-networking-guide.html. (2 April 2014).

Casserly, Meghan. “Networking For Introverts.” http://www.forbes.com/sites/meghancasserly/2010/09/01/networking-for-introverts/. (2 April 2014).