In our sophomore year of high school, my entire class took the Myers-Briggs personality test. When I got my results back, it was the first time I had been defined as an introvert. Now, I’m not proud of this—I was actually embarrassed to be labeled as such. When you’re 15 years old, creating the perception that you’re loud and bubbly, even if it isn’t really the truth, feels important. And unfortunately, there are a lot of negative stigmas associated with being introverted, many of which are extremely over-exaggerated or blatantly untrue. I ended up lying about my results to my friends and dismissing the test.
Nowadays, I’m no longer trying to hide my introversion. It’s just who I am, and I can’t believe I ever led others to think otherwise. I’ve come to embrace it and see its beauty. For instance, I consider myself a great listener. I think before I speak. I plan out what I want to accomplish before making any big moves.
That said, there are definitely some hurdles to overcome when it comes to being an introvert in the corporate world. Like networking.
The first time I attended a networking event, I was immediately overwhelmed by the task of making conversation with complete strangers for the better part of a day. I was with my coworkers, so I clung to them for dear life. I followed them around and stood behind them as they mingled with the crowd. I didn’t introduce myself to anyone, initiate any conversation, or make any meaningful connections. By the end of the day, my coworkers had each accumulated a stack of business cards, and I had nothing to show for my efforts (or lack thereof).
Fast forward five years and networking has become something that I embrace rather than fear. Sure, I will probably never be oozing with excitement about a networking opportunity, but thanks to the following tips, it’s no longer as scary as I once made it out to be.
So if you’re an introvert like me, here are some ways to make networking a little less daunting.
1. Do your research.
If you’re attending an event, see if there is any way that you can get your eyes on the attendee list beforehand. It always helps to be able to put a face to a name, and the internet can be your friend here. Sites like LinkedIn allow you to look up someone’s current role, past work history, educational degrees, and so on.
One of the easiest ways to start a conversation is by establishing common ground, so your research will be instrumental here. Finding someone that graduated from your Alma Mater or worked in the same industry as you is a great start, and by doing your homework, you’ll know who to approach before you even step foot in the event. And if you’re at a targeted event (say, women in marketing), you’re already at an advantage because the guests are pre-screened to have similarities to you.
Additionally, knowing who is attending allows you to compile a list of people that you’d like to get in front of. Remember, the most successful networking opportunities are those in which you are connecting with the people that you can add value to your professional network, so do your research and commit to making it happen.
2. Scan the room.
One of my favorite parts about being an introvert is taking the time to formulate a plan before acting. So when you walk into an event, take a few minutes to look around and gauge the atmosphere.
A great starting point is looking for someone you’ve already met. A familiar face might be all it takes to ease your nerves. And when you reignite that connection, that person is likely to introduce you to their network as well. The more people you’ve already spoken to at the event, the less it will feel like you’re surrounded by strangers.
Another strategy is to approach someone else that is attending the event alone. Even the most extroverted personality types like company, so take the initiative and make that introduction. Chances are, they’re feeling a little out of their depths too.
3. Ask a lot of questions.
One of the weirdest things about networking for me was making myself the center of attention. So take the edge off by guiding the conversation.
And in this case, taking a step back and doing more listening than talking will help you stand out. Sometimes, in a room full of big personalities and loud voices, a good listener might feel like a breath of fresh air.
4. Relax, breathe, and smile!
Your body language says a thousand words, so make sure you’re sending the right message. If you put on a friendly face, you increase the chances of someone approaching you and starting a conversation. Besides, you don’t want your connections to remember you as the unfriendly girl scowling with her arms crossed in the corner.
5. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Networking, like everything else in life, takes time to perfect. The more you put yourself out there, the more comfortable you will become. It may not be your favorite thing in the entire world, but you’ll be surprised by how much easier it starts to feel over time. Sometimes you just need to fake it till you make it. I promise it’ll be well worth it.