The Introvert's Networking Survival Guide
This blog was originally written for GrandPR, a student-run PR firm at Grand Valley State University.
I’m just going to say it- 90% of the time, I dread going to networking events. They leave me feeling depleted, drained, and in desperate need of a nap. As I approach my college graduation (103 days, but who’s counting?), a lot of things are starting to become clear to me, and one of them is this: I’m going to have to attend a lot of networking events in my career. Whether or not I liked it, networking is just a part of the game that I want to play.
The reason that loud, overwhelming networking events leave me feeling so drained is because I’m an introvert. It took me quite a while to admit this, though. For a while, when I heard the word ‘introvert’, all I thought of were the negative connotations to the word- shy, a Debbie downer, quiet, boring. I figured that there was nothing good about being an introvert. Also, let’s not even get started on how much the professional world values extroverts. It can be hard to admit that you’re an introvert when being an extrovert seems like the only way to succeed.
But since accepting that being introverted is all part of the way I’m wired, I’ve realized that there is so much power in being one. And while networking events are still always going to be a struggle for me, I’ve found many ways to make them more enjoyable and effective.
There is strength in being an introvert
Like I said, I used to only see the negative things about being an introvert. I felt like I was boring because I’d rather sit at home and do a puzzle than go out. I felt that I was ‘shy’ because that’s what the world had labeled me. But then, I found my strengths:
I’m a GREAT listener because talking can drain me.
I’m inquisitive. I’m always wondering and wanting to know more.
I feel that I have a greater capacity to focus than some of my more extroverted friends.
I value forming close, meaningful relationships over having countless surface-level relationships (which, let’s be real, networking is notorious for these half-hearted and surface-level relationships).
These strengths are the things that give me an unexpected leg-up against some of my extroverted counterparts. If you think of being introverted in the same way that I used to, I challenge you to get a pen and some paper and write down three strengths of being an introvert that can help you in a professional setting. Think hard- I promise they’re there.
You know the quote “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”? Well, there’s no reason it can’t apply here. Build up your arsenal of ice breaker questions so you’re not left to your own devices when the time comes. They can be simple things, such as:
“What did you think of that speaker?”
“Which sessions have you enjoyed so far?”
“How long have you been in your current position?”
Or even just giving them a compliment can help get the ball rolling.
Additionally, when it comes to large networking events, see if you can create opportunities to meet with people in a less stressful and more one-on-one setting.
Be that person.
One piece of advice I like is called ‘Be that person’. Imagine that everyone else in the room is feeling the same way that you are. They’re nervous, lonely, scared to start a conversation, or overall just dreading this. Instead of getting stuck in your own head and focusing on how much you’re dreading it, think of how appreciative someone else might be if you helped them out by starting a conversation with them.
Believe me when I say that there is so much power and strength in being an introvert in an extrovert’s world, and I am so glad that I am one. While overwhelming, speed-dating-style networking events may not be our forte, we’ve got a secret set of weapons on our side that give us a unique advantage to our extroverted counterparts.