Walking into a room full of strangers, striking up conversations, and being “on” for hours on end can be exhausting for those of us who are introverts, deriving our energy from solitude, quiet, and reflection. Our more extroverted colleagues, on the other hand, who derive their energy from interacting with others, often find in-person networking events an easy, appealing way to build valuable relationships for furthering their career. But introverts need to build those relationships, too.
Not everyone can be Leslie Knope (and that’s a good thing). In presentations about introversion in the workplace, I sometimes suggest that attendees imagine introverts as goldfish and extroverts as puppies. Both are terrific in their own way, but you can’t expect a puppy to sit quietly in a bowl, and a goldfish is never going to catch a Frisbee. We all can learn to play to our strengths.
Over the course of my career, I’ve developed some tips and tricks to get the most out of networking events in the shortest amount of time, maximizing my effectiveness without burning through all my introverted energy.
- What’s your “why?” Between informal meet ups to more structured professional conferences, there are a dizzying number of networking events available to you. As an introvert, though, you need to be particular about where you use your energy and time. Decide your reason for building your network: are you looking for a mentor? A new position? A peer group? Once you’re clear, pick the events most likely to attract the people you hope to meet, and let the other ones go.
- Batch events. I prefer to do my “peopling” in batches. One day, I may have a breakfast meeting, a planning session, a board meeting, a lunch meetup, an afternoon coffee or two, and a happy hour event or evening workshop, and it’s fantastic. For the next day, though, I keep my calendar clear of meetings and block out time for writing, research, and reading instead. A networking event feels like less of a burden if I know I have planned downtime afterward.
- Define success. What gets measured gets done. Some introverts I know swear by number targets; they consider the event a success if they meant X new people. Others see more value in lengthy conversations or in follow-up coffee dates on the books. Choose a simple metric that matters to you and moves you toward your goal.
- Do some homework. You don’t need to meet everyone at the event. If a list of attendees is available beforehand, do some online research and decide who you’d like to meet and what you want to talk about. There’s honestly no better opening line than a sincere, “I saw you were coming to this event and really wanted to meet you.”
- Get there early. I prefer to arrive at the beginning of the event. That gives me a chance to get comfortable in the space and introduce myself to the host or staff before it gets crowded. And consider volunteering at the registration table. It’s a great way to connect faces to names and make mental notes of who you’d like to meet over the course of the event.
- Have a business card plan. Yes, people still use them! If I can, I try to wear something with pockets so I can keep my cards in one and those I collect in the other. I also keep a pen handy so I can make notes on the cards themselves; you can do this discreetly in a corner in between conversations, but I’ve found that few people mind if you just say, “I want to remember what you said, so I’m making a quick note.”
- Follow up. There’s more than one kind of networking, and online tools can help build good relationships. So be sure to block off time the night of or day after a networking event to connect with the people you met with a quick note on the platform of your choice (I use LinkedIn, but industry-specific communities are great for this as well).
- Keep your eyes on the prize. You may never love networking events, and that’s ok. You can, however, absolutely use them to your advantage by setting specific goals to achieve desired outcomes. Connecting with others to share your skills and amplify your voice, and the voices of those you serve, is critical work and a powerful way to be of service. The world needs to hear from you.
A note for extroverts: Introverts may be a minority in the general population, but they’re a majority in the gifted population. At your next networking event, take the opportunity to engage someone standing by themselves, hanging on the edge of your group conversation, or arriving late. You never know who you’ll meet and what you’ll learn.
Jennifer Houlihan is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.