In Part III of this blog series, we abandoned the conventional advice of maximizing mingling and self-promotion, and adopted several strategies to Process a networking event in order to gain meaningful connections. The networking process for an introvert requires a more deliberate approach: prioritizing a small number of people to focus on forging lasting connections. Connect instead of collect. Replace quantity with quality.
During that post, our focus was mostly on what actions to take, based on your specific skills as an introvert. However, I want to repeat a sentence I wrote in an earlier blog:
Playing to your strengths means understanding fully and with honesty what you can excel at and where your limits are.
In this week’s post, we’re going to pay special attention to our limits. For most introverts, social interactions are draining. From our earlier discussion of the characteristics of introverts, recall that introverts typically enjoy few stimuli, energize alone, and are inner directed. Networking events, noisy environments with lots of people and little time to yourself, are practically designed to drain an introvert’s energy resources.
A phrase that Devora Zack likes to repeat in her book, Networking for People Who Hate Networking, is “a drained introvert is an ineffective introvert.”
In order to stay focused on effectively Processing your networking experience, you have to Pace yourself.
Breaks are mandatory!
While the extroverted networking strategy benefits from spending as much time around people as possible, introverts should not approach their networking experience this way. Spending several hours meeting and chatting with lots of people is exhausting. For example, if you are a strong introvert like me, small talk feels particularly draining.
The strategies that I described last time don’t only make good use of our focus and listening skills; they also allow us to take care of our need for alone time. With your priority list of networking targets and your realistic measurable goal of how many people to connect with, you’ve opened up a lot of time. Don’t fall into the trap of reverting to an unsuitable networking strategy during these time gaps!
Don’t think of breaks as optional, or something you only resort to if you’re truly overwhelmed. As an introvert, you have to deliberately build in breaks into your networking schedule. Breaks are mandatory.
This piece of advice has done the most to improve my own networking experiences by removing a lot of the guilt and anxiety that I used to associate with networking. Now, I’m much better at using my energy effectively and being on my game for people I really need to talk to.
You need time to yourself to refuel. Here are some ways to get time alone during a networking event:
Go to the bathroom: Whether you actually need to go or not, do a little “freshening up.” Check yourself out in the mirror. Make sure you haven’t spilled food on yourself. Touch up your hair. Practice your posture and your smile in the mirror to feel confident that you’ll make a pleasant first impression.
Get some fresh air: If possible, take a moment to step outside. It’s ok to antisocially check your phone out there. In situations where appearances matter so much, it can feel like everyone’s judgment about you is terribly important. But the truth is that everyone else is busy meeting other people too, and no one will notice or care how many times you leave and enter the event.
Filler strategies from last post: Hang out near the food, stand in line, or check the nametag and info tables. These strategies can set you up for easy conversation openers with strangers. But they can also give you a time out where you don’t have to feel obligated to talk to anyone.
Talk to a good friend: Talking to someone you know well is much more relaxing than talking to strangers. If your friend is also an introvert, you can commiserate about your experience and encourage each other to reach your networking goals. Just make sure you don’t spend the entire night talking only to each other.
Explicitly plan for down-time
Make sure to schedule breaks during the planning phase before an event. Again, prioritization is key. You don’t have to attend every networking event out there. Pick ones where the attendees truly interest you and where the event format might be more structured and well-suited for introverted networkers.
If you’re going to a conference or a longer series of events, don’t be overly ambitious with your schedule. You don’t have to fill every minute of your time with seminars and social hours. Devora Zack recommends making a list of the events that look interesting to you, and then cutting that in half. Save your energy to be at your best for the really exciting stuff. Don’t waste your energy on lesser things just to feel productive, and then end up drained for the things you really care about. You’re not slacking off, you’re prioritizing and being efficient!
After you’ve completed a successful conversation, and made a positive and memorable impression by asking thoughtful questions, now is a great time to take a moment to pause. Seek a relatively quiet spot and take a few minutes to reflect on the interaction you just had, another skill that introverts excel at.
Write down a few tidbits of information about the person you met. Here are some items you might consider including. The back of their business card can be particularly useful for this purpose:
- Position and place of work
- How they can help in your career
- Details about their appearance
- Details about their personal life
This moment of pause allows you to better remember the person you’ve just connected with and also gives you a little bit of time to recharge and get ready for the next confrontation.
Since the introvert’s goal of networking is to create a compact network of reliable contacts, you need to follow-up with your contacts after the initial meeting and nurture the connection you’ve started. One conversation at a crowded networking event won’t be enough to make that person think of you when they come across the next job posting, no matter how wonderful your conversation was. Consistent follow-up is crucial.
Ideally, send them a note or follow-up email within 48 hours. Here, your introverted nature comes in handy again, because where introverts are hesitant in talking, they are often excellent at writing.
Make your note professional but personal. Don’t worry about using very formal language; you don’t want to sound stuffy and dry. Remind them about who you are, something you talked about or something you have in common. Finish off with a personal touch. If they mentioned any personal details, mention them here.
Example: It was great to talk with you and I hope to discuss this topic with you further. Good luck with your daughter’s soccer game this weekend!
Make yourself useful. Professional relationships are two-way streets. If you expect to gain something from the other person, it’s nice to offer something in return, even if it is something simple like sharing information through relevant articles or links. Small favors can go a long way in solidifying connections.
Example: In regards to the role of diversity in biotech companies that we talked about yesterday, here is an article I saw recently that I thought was very insightful.
If the person doesn’t get back to you right away, here’s a good rule of thumb for being persistent but not obnoxious: wait 2 weeks and then send them a cheerful check-in email. If you don’t desperately need something from them, just leave it at that. If they don’t respond, perhaps this person is not meant to be part of your compact network. If you do need something desperately, it might be best to pick up the phone. I know phone calls are scary, but they are very effective.
Know when to leave
Just as you don’t have to feel obligated to spend every minute at the networking event talking to someone, you also don’t have to feel obligated to stay for the entire duration of the event. Don’t let yourself burn out by struggling through to the end.
You can have a specific time in mind as your personal curfew. Make it something reasonable, like an hour or two, during which you can accomplish some serious networking. Since you’ve thought of a specific goal for whom to talk to, after you’ve reached this goal is also a good time to think about heading out. Don’t worry about what other people think. Most likely, no one will notice when you leave.
Once you’re done with the event, congratulate yourself on what you’ve accomplished! Treat yourself to some ice cream, a glass of wine, and some well-deserved alone time! Not only do you deserve it, but this positive reinforcement will make you feel better about the next networking event. With this productive experience under your belt, continue the momentum by gathering more individuals into your compact, reliable network, and strengthening the relationship with your contacts.
With each successful experience you can go a little further outside your comfort zone. Consider joining your co-worker for dinner, as you hone your listening and conversation skills. Slightly increase your networking goal for the next event. Grow the courage to approach someone you previously found intimidating.
These tips for Pacing yourself should make your networking experience more manageable and enjoyable. In fact, many of these strategies are applicable for your social life in general. Think of a party with lots of people, where it might be helpful for you to take occasional breaks outside and to have planned a predetermined time to leave.
10 Point Summary
- Breaks are mandatory
- Deliberately plan down-time
- Prioritize interesting events and people
- Don’t feel guilty about taking time to yourself
- Recharge in the bathroom, outside, in line, or with a friend
- Reflect and write down details
- Personalized follow-up with your contacts
- Leave after you’ve reached a predetermined time or goal
- Reward yourself
- Expand beyond your comfort zone
Check back in two weeks for final installment of this blog series, in which you will learn how to change your perception and build a positive outlook on networking as an introvert.
** Try taking breaks during your next networking opportunity and let us how it changed your experience! **
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- Networking for People Who hate Networking, by Devora Zack
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
- Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi
- Self-Promotion for Introverts: A Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead, Nancy Ancowitz