How to Network (When You Absolutely Have To)

An introvert attends a networking event

Networking may not come naturally to most introverts, but it’s something we can learn to do. 

Sweaty palms. No clue what to say. Not knowing a single person.

Why would any introvert put themselves in that situation?

That’s exactly what my first networking experience was like. I was a brand new business owner and life coach, and I decided to go to a networking event.

When I got there, I froze. I stumbled across another introvert who was as nervous and uncomfortable as I was. We talked about how out of place we felt, huddling together in a corner for most of the evening, struggling to make small talk and discreetly wiping our sweaty palms on our pants. 

Thankfully, I didn’t let that first experience with networking stop me. I kept showing up, learned a few tricks by trial and error, and now consider myself a fabulous introverted networker. Here are nine of my best tips to help you get the most out of networking as an introvert, too.

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9 Tips for Networking as an Introvert

1. Get clear on why you’re networking, whether it’s finding new clients or making new friends.

Too many people (including some extroverts) go to networking events without a clearly-defined goal or purpose. Arbitrarily going to networking events without a bigger “why” will only drain your energy, leave you feeling awkward, and might even turn you off to the idea of networking altogether.

Ask yourself why you want to attend networking events. Are you looking to:

  • Find leads for your business?
  • Identify potential referral partners?
  • Raise awareness for a cause?
  • Make a career change?
  • Find guests for your podcast?
  • Recruit for your company?
  • Make friends?
  • Develop strong relationships with other professionals?

Getting clear on why you’re attending networking events will ensure you aren’t wasting your time — or precious social energy — on networking in a way that won’t move the needle toward your goals.

2. Define the types of connections you’re seeking.

Once you know why you’re networking, it’s time to get laser-focused on the types of people you want to meet. This will help you sift through the droves of people at networking events, so you can focus the bulk of your time and energy on making the connections that will have the biggest impact.

This isn’t to say that you should immediately dismiss people at an event if they aren’t the type of connection you’re looking for. It simply narrows your focus so you don’t wear yourself out talking to every person at an event, channeling the bulk of your energy into meaningful conversations with your ideal connections.

Keeping the reason why you’re networking in mind, make a list of the types of people you most want to connect with. They could be:

  • Members of your target market
  • In a specific industry (mortgage lenders, restaurant owners, etc.)
  • With a specific employer/company
  • People with specific demographic characteristics
  • Associates of someone you’d like to know
  • People who share your values or interests

Knowing the types of people you want to connect with can save you from wandering the room, randomly talking to more people than you have the energy for.

3. Choose networking events intentionally, like the ones that are the most well-suited for you.

Once you have identified the types of people you want to connect with, you will be well-equipped to choose the best networking events for you. Finding and attending the best-fitting events will help you conserve your social energy, and use it in a way that will create the greatest impact.

Consider the list of people you most want to connect with. Where do they hang out? What organizations do they belong to? What networking events do they attend? You can find lots of networking events and organizations in-person and online. Here are just a few places to look for events:

  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Trade/professional organizations
  • Interest groups (women, veterans, industry-specific, etc.)
  • Business/professional development clubs
  • Service organizations
  • Referral/leads groups

Event organizers often provide a description of the types of people their events are geared toward. Choosing events where your ideal connections are likely to be will help you get the most out of your networking efforts.

However, just know that finding the best events for you might take some trial and error. Feel free to take it slow, and give yourself plenty of time between events.

And, as you start attending networking events, you’ll get an idea of the right-sized events for you. Maybe you’re less comfortable at a large event, and looking for a smaller gathering instead. The right-sized event is out there — all you have to do is find it.

There is a weekly networking event in my area that consistently sees 100+ attendees. It’s a great place to make multiple contacts quickly, but the environment is crowded and loud.

Instead of going to this big networking event weekly (which would drain my mental and emotional energy), I attend it every four to six weeks. This allows me to still reap the benefits of attending a large event, while also taking care of myself as an introvert.

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.

4. Include downtime before and after the event.

Once you’ve identified the best-fitting events for you, be sure to schedule some downtime to recharge before and after the event. 

In today’s rushed, over-scheduled world, it can be tempting to try and squeeze a networking event in between meetings, lunch, and other activities. But too many activities packed in closely can sap your energy as an introvert, making you less effective for the rest of the day.

Scheduling some mental preparation time before a networking event will help quell any nervous or rushed energy. And giving yourself mental recovery time after a networking event will allow you to decompress and reflect afterward. Even if it’s only q0 minutes or half an hour, the time to yourself will make a big difference.

5. Set a specific goal for each networking event.

Once you have a networking event scheduled, setting a goal with your networking “why” in mind (see step one) can help steer your efforts and gauge your progress. Here are a few examples of possible goals for networking events:

  • Connect with 3 people in a specific industry, target market, etc.
  • Schedule a follow-up meeting with 1 potential referral partner while at the event
  • Identify 2 people who might be a good fit for the position you want to fill
  • Show up and having a conversation with 3 people (this can be a great place to start if you’re an introvert who is brand new to networking)

Above all, keep your goal small and manageable. Networking events can be draining for introverts, so resist the temptation to ask too much of yourself.

It’s also important to view your goal as flexible, rather than set in stone. After all, you can’t control whether the kinds of people you want to meet will be at the event. You might also find that your energy is zapped early-on. By having a flexible goal, you give yourself permission to change plans according to what’s best for you under the circumstances.

6. Lead with curiosity to help spark conversations.

One of the most nerve-wracking things about networking events can be not knowing what to say during a conversation. Having a set of go-to questions and conversation tricks can help ease the burden of thinking of something to say. Some great questions to have on hand are:

  • Can you describe the path that led you to your current position?
  • What do you love most about your job?
  • Which personal and professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • How do you like to unwind at the end of a long day or week?
  • What are you most passionate about outside of work, and why?

Asking meaningful questions is a great way to help people feel heard and important. It also dives beyond superficial small-talk (which most introverts don’t enjoy) and helps you get to know the person in front of you. Finally, if you’re a great listener (most introverts are), asking questions allows you to utilize that superpower.

Most people will reciprocate after answering a question by asking you a question, as well. This common behavior can build mutual ease and comfort, and help you connect on a deeper level.

7. Create a plan to follow up with your key connections.

If you defined your networking “why” and set a clear goal for the event, chances are you’ll meet a few people whom you’ll want to get to know better. Create a plan to strengthen your connections with these people by planning to follow up after the event.

This doesn’t have to be a big declaration, a plan to collaborate, or an instant friendship. It can be as simple as, “I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. Would you be up for grabbing coffee soon?  Let me know what fits your schedule.” If this is outside your comfort zone, you can always follow up via email. Keep in mind that following up sooner, rather than later, is better.

Following up not only gives you an opportunity to strengthen these new connections, but also allows you to connect with new contacts in a more introvert-friendly environment — whatever that looks like for you.

8. Leave the event before you feel drained.

While introverts can be great networkers, we need to be careful not to overdo it. One networking mistake introverts sometimes make is staying at an event until they are mentally and emotionally exhausted. Doing so can throw off the rest of your day, or even your week. (And you want to avoid an “introvert hangover” at all costs.)

One solution? Leave before your energy is depleted. If you’ve achieved the goal you set for the event, give yourself permission to head out. If you feel your energy starting to slip, show yourself grace and compassion by stepping outside for a break or by leaving the event altogether, even if you haven’t achieved your goal.

By leaving before you’ve spent all of your mental and emotional capital, you give yourself the opportunity to make connections without sacrificing your well-being and productivity afterward. Sometimes, success looks like showing up and staying true to yourself, and that’s okay.

9. Think about yourself and your networking experience with kindness and compassion.

After the event is over, you might be tempted to overanalyze your conversations or think of things you should have said. Instead, choose to think about yourself and the networking event with kindness and compassion.

And don’t forget to give yourself credit. You’re an introvert, after all, and you went to a networking event — it was probably a lot for your neurological system to handle. Even if you made mistakes or didn’t reach your goal, you showed up for yourself, and that’s a huge win. Choose to have compassion for yourself, as an introvert, doing a very extrovert-oriented thing.

And the best way to get better at networking is by doing it, adjusting, and doing it again. With that in mind, answer these questions to learn from your networking experience:

  • What did I do well?
  • What didn’t work well?
  • What do I want to do differently at the next event?

By pulling this information from your experience, you can redirect your thoughts from self-criticism to productive, growth-focused insights.

Networking Can Be Enjoyable, Even for Introverts 

Networking may not come naturally to most introverts, but it’s something we can learn to do (and even enjoy). By networking with intention, it’s possible to make great connections, move forward, and achieve your goals, all while staying true to yourself as an introvert. 

So plan your approach and keep showing up. Before long, those sweaty palms will be shaking hands confidently with your newest contacts.

I am an introvert and a confidence and mindset coach for busy professionals. Visit my website to sign up for weekly tips on confidence, growth mindset, and achieving your goals.

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