Trying to network as an introvert can be a real hurdle, especially in business. However, there is no reason that you can’t crush networking as an introvert! If you are an introvert like me, you most probably appreciate the value of business networking. You also realize that you should spend more time networking, building up elusive business relationships that are going to help you succeed. And, more likely than not, you know that you need to work at getting over your shyness and reaching out to other people.
And it’s possible. Difficult? Yes. Uncomfortable? Definitely. But over time, you can learn to be more outgoing – or at least outgoing enough to make meeting new people less distressing.
Like you, I know that I could achieve so much more if I just wasn’t so damned shy! I have seen my introversion seriously hamper my success, which only adds to my frustration.
So, I went looking for answers. Over the years, I have read books and watched videos to try to discover how to “come out of my shell” and to be less introverted.
The good news is that there are ways to network as an introvert. There are techniques that you can employ to distract yourself or give you a confidence boost to get over the initial impulse to run and hide in a closet.
Some of the tips, tricks, and hacks you will find below are like the ones you will find in this article (which is well worth reading as well as it discusses things you can do to boost your confidence when networking) but the points below have been modified to suit the characteristics of introversion and shyness. Some of the changes to the content from that article are subtle while others are less so.
But let’s start with a brief look at what introversion and shyness are.
What’s the difference between being introverted and being shy?
Although they are often confused with one another, shyness and introversion are not the same thing.
In her book “Quiet”, Susan Cain explained the difference this way “Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating”.
Louis A. Schmidt and Arnold H. Buss of the University of Texas stated in their book “The Development of Shyness and Social Withdrawal” that “Sociability refers to the motive, strong or weak, of wanting to be with others, whereas shyness refers to behavior when with others, inhibited or uninhibited, as well as feelings of tension and discomfort.”
In other words, an introvert doesn’t want to socialize but when in a social situation, they are not afraid of social interaction. However, they tire of social situations quickly and need to retreat somewhere to be alone and away from the stresses of being around lots of people.
A shy person, on the other hand, is afraid of the interaction because they fear humiliation or disapproval. It dictates their behavior while in the social setting.
The upshot of all this is that the two classifications are unrelated. An introvert may be shy or not. Likewise, a shy person can be introverted or an extrovert (strange as the latter sounds).
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
This is a phobia that presents itself as being like an acute version of shyness. It is an acute fear of being humiliated by others, which leads to extreme self-consciousness. This results in blushing, trembling, sweating and nausea, which are often symptoms of this affliction and can have a devastating impact on the life of a sufferer. The good news is that it can be treated with counselling.
Why are we introverted or shy?
According to this article, it appears that introverts are “born, not made”. However, there is still no conclusive proof either way.
On the other hand, people are shy because they tend to be very self-critical, something that may stem from their relationship with a parent who was “anxious, rejecting, critical or restrictive”.
They tend to focus on what they do wrong and allow negative experiences to affect them. As such they see themselves as unworthy of the attention or respect of others and desperately fear humiliation.
What do you really fear when networking?
As an introvert, you most probably do not want to attend a large social networking event but when you get there, you will most probably be okay.
If you are shy, you will struggle with social interaction, whatever form they take. The trick is to do what you can to overcome your shyness. But make sure you take it seriously. It’s not something that you can just “snap out of”. If not addressed, it will lead to a lot of frustration and wasted time – and opportunities.
Tips and Tricks that Can Help You Conquer Shyness When Networking as an Introvert
“Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.”
Being prepared is the key. Being effective at networking events means that introverts and shy perople need to do more preparation than extroverts do, but this is the key to overcoming your reticence and building the confidence to break through the barriers that make socializing difficult.
Famous Introverts and Shy People
As a little motivation, and to show you that you don’t have to let shyness or introversion hold you back, here is a list – found on inc.com – of shy and introverted high achievers;
Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Isaac Newton, Eleanor Roosevelt, JK Rowling, Barrack Obama and Elon Musk.
Okay, let’s get on with the list of tips, tricks and hacks to help you start networking as an introvert.
Before the Event
Do Your Research
Try to find out who will be attending the event (which may be difficult). If you are able to do this, select a few people that would be
Try to find commonality with the people you are targeting. According to Dorie Clark “… famed psychologist Robert Cialdini … told me the best way to make a favorable impression is to find a commonality with the person you’re talking to – as quickly as possible”.
If you find out who will be attending, select a few of the people you think would be beneficial to get to know and send them an email or message through LinkedIn. Introduce yourself and tell them that you will be attending the event they are signed up for. Then ask if they would be open to meeting you at the event.
Prepare a Few Ice Breakers
It’s worth taking some time to create a few ice breakers for when you meet new people. This way, you have something prepared for when you want to start a conversation with someone without having to worry about your mind going blank.
It’s best to keep them quite generic. Don’t get too creative until you gain more confidence.
It’s also a good idea to practice saying the icebreakers to yourself in the mirror before an event to work on tone and expression.
Some solid icebreakers include;
“Tell me about what you do.”
“What do you think of this event?”
“Do you go to a lot of networking events?”
“What motivated to come to this event?”
(When meeting someone standing away from the crowd) “Do you mind if I join you here where it’s a little quieter.”
“Nice shoes/watch/jacket/necklace. Where did you get them/it?”
“The only person I know here is the bartender – and I only met them two minutes ago. Mind if I introduce myself?”
There are loads of other ideas for icebreakers online. Choose a few that suit your personality. You may be hesitant to use them but you have to try.
You will be surprised how easily you can start a conversation. Otherwise you are wasting your time as well as a good opportunity to meet others.
For more icebreaker ideas, check out the bonus content at the end of this article.
Don’t Use an Elevator Pitch
According to Judy Robinett in her book “How to Become a Power Connector”, do not use an elevator pitch. Elevator pitches come across as forced and insincere and end up sounding like bragging rather than an introduction. They are also usually full of corporate jargon and tell the listener more about the business than the person delivering the pitch.
The problem with this is that when you are connecting with another person, they want to find out about you. They want to know if you are the type of person they want to build a relationship with. They want to know if you are likeable and trustworthy.
So, if you shouldn’t use an elevator pitch, how should you go about introducing yourself. Well, according to Robinett, it’s a three step process;
1. Share. Instead of introducing your business to the person you have just met, start off by sharing something about you that gives them an idea about who you are as a person.
“Have you ever been up to [insert name] Lake? I took my two sons up there fishing last weekend and it was breathtaking. I like to get out of town as often as I can. How about you? What do you like to do to relax?”
You can also introduce your business in a conversational way that shows your passion for what you do.
“Do you know that, even today, about half of small businesses don’t have a website. I believe that being online can really help small business through channels not available otherwise and I want to get to as many of these businesses as I can to help them put their businesses online affordably and effectively.”
2. Value Add. This is where you ask if there is anything you can do to help the person you are talking to, or if there are any introductions they are looking for that your network might be able to help with. The point here is to offer help sincerely and without wanting anything in return.
3. Ask. Finally, you get to ask for something. However, at this stage, do not ask for anything substantial. Ask something like “Could I set up a meeting with you to speak about how we can help one another?” or “Do you have any advice on what I am doing?” You should be trying to give more than you receive at this point.
You should write your ideas on what to say down but do not memorize them as giving a rehearsed speech comes off as disingenuous. Go over them enough times that the ideas stick in your mind but try different ones and speak from the heart.
Also, try not to use the same icebreakers more than once or twice. at each event. If people overhear you saying to another person what you said to them, you will look a little foolish. So prepare a few and mix it up.
Create a List of Fall-Back Conversation Topics
As part of your preparation, it’s a good idea to write a lit of things to talk about. This is especially important if you are shy. If you are, you know what it’s like to “go blank” when you have just met someone. The harder you try to think of something to say, the more difficult it seems.
Write down a list of topics and questions you can ask the person and review it before the event.
You can include many of your icebreaker questions here as many can be used during the conversation.
If you know of anyone else who will be attending the event, you can suggest going together. Doing this will at least help alleviate the anxiety when you first get to the event, even if you separate later to meet different people.
One thing to avoid is using them as crutch, especially if you are shy and they are not. You will need to leave them and meet people on your own. This will help bolster your self-confidence and allow you to connect with people.
Remaining with the person you arrive with will lead to them dominating the conversation with other people, resulting in you not actually meeting anyone, or at best coming off as a mute sidekick.
Dress for Success
It is important to dress for the occasion and to wear decent quality clothing. It goes without saying that your clothing should be clean, well pressed and understated.
As already mentioned, you can use the topic of dress as an icebreaker by complimenting a person you meet on some item of their clothing or jewelry.
You want to help.
You have a lot to offer.
You are worthy of success.
You work hard and have knowledge and experience to share, knowledge and experience that can help those you meet.
You can be taken seriously.
Others will listen to you. They don’t know who you are and will accept whoever you present yourself to be.
Think of the times you did not want to socialize in the past that ended with you having a wonderful time. Convince yourself that this may be just such an occasion.
I stumbled across this article with three powerful mantras you can repeat to yourself to motivate you;
“The next person I talk to could change my life”.
“People want to know me as much as I want to know them”.
“Networking doesn’t have to be schmoozing”. This ties into the point above about not using a rehearsed elevator pitch.
When you exercise, you have a better workout if you warm up. The same is true of social interactions.
If you are an introvert, go somewhere where there are lots of people before the event – perhaps grab a coffee at a shopping mall or department store – to get used to being around people. This will help you acclimatize to a social setting.
If you are a shy person, stand in front of a mirror and practice your ice-breakers and your conversation topics. Play around with tone and accent and try to have fun with them.
Keep Expectations Low
If you attend an event, set out to meet just one person. If you meet two, give yourself a pat on the back. It’s important to challenge yourself but also to be realistic.
At the Event
Smiling is something we all do and it is essential to smile when meeting new people. A smile is something wonderful and it costs nothing to share.
Here are a few reasons why you should smile as much as possible (without seeming manic or insane) at your next networking event.
Smiling can improve your mood. Next time you feel moody or down, force yourself to smile and you will notice that your mood improves.
Smiling is infectious and can make others feel happy. Have you ever seen someone smiling and felt a smile creep onto your face – even though you didn’t see anything funny? Most people have.
Smiling can make you seem genuine and unpretentious. Smiling people are perceived to be relaxed and at ease. They tend to be thought of as being more trustworthy than those who don’t smile often.
Smiling makes you more attractive. People like being around attractive people and by smiling, you are making yourself as attractive as you can. In the same way as the way you dress and carry yourself can have a huge impact on what people think of you, so smiling can make people think more highly of you.
Smiling makes you seem more approachable. Who would you rather approach, a smiling person or a scowling person? Case closed!
Smiling helps reduce stress. And since meeting people is a stressful situation, wouldn’t it be a good idea to use any (legal) way you can to reduce that stress?
Smiling makes you feel good. Simple truth.
Look for Other Introverts
Birds of a feather stick together, right? So why not look out for others who seem uneasy.
“You look as uncomfortable as me,” could be a great ice breaker. This way, you are revealing something personal, while also making a little joke.
What is more, you have something in common with the person, and your introversion and/or shyness may be a great topic to use to get to know them better.
Being introverted and/or shy means that you don’t like talking to people in groups anyway, so by targeting the “loners”, you end up in a best case scenario – you get to meet someone you can talk to without worrying that someone else in the group will take over the conversation.
Take a Deep Breath
Whenever you feel your nerves getting the better of you, stop, close your eyes and take a deep breath.
Taking a deep breath is one of the best ways to reduce stress and we have a built in system that instructs the brain to de-stress when we start taking deep breaths.
That is why breathing exercises are recommended for people under stress.
Keep Your Hands Busy
Nothing reminds you of how nervous you are than when your hands start fidgeting. It also makes you look terribly nervous.
To counter this, get a drink or plate of food and hold it, making sure that neither the glass nor the plate is ever empty, or you will look a bit silly.
You can also fold your hands (interlock your fingers). By locking your hands together, you reduce the chance of fidgeting.
You could hold a small fidgeting toy as long as it is inconspicuous. That way you can keep your hands at your sides but still keep them busy. It may be a good topic for conversation, too.
Don’t fold your arms across your chest as this will make you seem less approachable. And don’t put your hands in your pockets either.
Why not set a challenge for yourself? Nothing too optimistic, especially at the beginning, but challenging yourself can be a great way to bolster your self-esteem.
So, while meeting and talking to one person would be okay, try to talk to two.
That doesn’t mean just saying “Hi” to them. It means getting to know them and committing to follow up with them.
Or, you could undertake to not only meet and chat two two people, but also smile at and greet everyone you walk past at the event.
It’s important to approach this in the right way, however. Don’t go crazy and challenge yourself in such a way that the pressure will make you extra nervous. Start small and build up. Each goal achieved will increase your self-confidence and help you fight your anti-social tendencies.
Don’t Go for Your Phone
When the situation gets overwhelming, it’s tempting to take out your phone, retreat to a dim corner of the room and pretend to be busy with something that couldn’t wait (all the while playing Candy Crush). This doesn’t help. It is better to just leave the event.
So leave you phone in your pocket or purse. Take it out only to make notes or take pictures (take a look at this article for ways to use your phone with people you are networking with).
After the Event
After the event, be sure to send a message, emails or (preferably) a handwritten card or note to those you met expressing your gratitude for taking the time to meet you.
Try to include a link or resource about something you spoke about, just to show you were paying attention to what they were saying. If they mentioned anything you might be able to help them with, refer to it here as well.
You should end off with a request to keep in touch.
Keep it short and friendly
Diarize a follow-up. It’s essential that you do follow up with them.
It goes without saying that you must never try to sell them on anything or ask for anything from them at this stage. There will be plenty of time for that later, when you have provided heaps of value to them.
Being an introvert or suffering from shyness does not have to be a burden that restricts your potential. Like any hindrance, it needs to be addressed and compensated for. But it need not be an insurmountable obstacle.
The question is, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to let the introversion or shyness win? Or, are you going to make the decision – today – to not let your affliction stop you from achieving everything you want to achieve?
Let’s do it together. I have challenged myself to connect more with strangers. Will you join me? Leave a comment below if you want to take up this challenge.
Networking Hacks for Shy People
Create Your Own Event
This option allows you control everything about the event; where it will be, when it will take place and what format it will take.
Being the organizer, you will know exactly who is coming and will be able to find common topics of interest that you can use in conversation with them.
You might even consider organizing an event specifically for introverts and shy people. This article offers some great insights and ideas on how to go about it.
Pick Your Battles
As already stated, Introverts are far better in more intimate social settings. If you want to network, try setting up 1 to 1 meetings as you learn to become more sociable.
When you become more confident, you can start attending larger and larger events until you graduate to full-on networking events and conferences.