The Introvert’s Guide to Networking Events

Not all introverts are shy, and you certainly don’t have to be an introvert to hate speaking up in crowds – but if I tell you that I’d both rather be home reading and also get the cold sweats when I have to talk to people, you’ll probably wonder why I’m writing a post on networking events.

See, I may be a shy introvert, but I’m also a freelance writer. And that means networking if I want to keep growing my business. I’ve been to dozens of networking events over the past year, everything from huge writers’ conferences to 20-person mingle events at a local bar.

The thing that surprises me every time is that I actually enjoy going. Sure, I’d rather be curled up on my couch with a good book – but once I get myself out and talking to people I almost always come home full of new ideas, brimming with new prospects, and exhausted from being so friendly for so long.

If you consider yourself an introvert, take it from me that you can actually have fun networking. Here are some of the tips I’ve learned.

Recognize that others are shy, too

I had this epiphany at a writer’s conference recently. I was sitting by myself, bummed out that no one was talking to me, when I noticed that I wasn’t alone. Everyone was sitting by themselves. People weren’t ignoring me because I was unlikeable, it’s just that an overwhelming percentage of people at the conference had no idea how to approach other people. I started striking up conversations with random strangers, and nearly all of them seemed grateful that I’d made the first overture.

Don’t hesitate to make the first move! It could be that your target is just as lost as you are about how to talk to new people.

Wear something memorable

It’s no secret that wearing the right clothes can boost your confidence. Within the dress code of the event, pick out an outfit that makes you feel confident, comfortable, and has a memorable element or two. I have a handful of necklaces, skirts, or shoes that always get me compliments – when I’m heading out to meet new people, I’ll pick from something that group, knowing that it will help people start conversations with me, and that I’ll stick a bit better in their minds. I’ve sent follow-up emails and gotten responses like “Oh, you were the one in the silver Doc Martens, right?” (I mostly go to writers’ conferences, as I’ve said.)

Women have a bit more leeway with their outfits here than men, but the point is to wear something you feel great in, and that might help you stand out – just a bit.

Don’t talk about work, yet

The worst conversation killer at a networking event is the question “What do you do?” Sure, talking about what we do is the reason we’re all at the event, but the instant the question comes up people tend to freeze up and scramble for their elevator pitches. Try to establish a rapport first by talking casually about anything else. Did the panelists make some really interesting points? Did you just read a fantastic book on a related subject? Is the other person wearing quirky earrings? Is there weather happening?

Come up with a few rock-solid questions that you can ask before turing to the “What do you do?” question. Here are a few ideas:

  • Did you travel far to get here?
  • What keeps you busy when you’re not at work or at events like this?
  • Will you be traveling at all [this summer/over the holidays/for Memorial Day Weekend/etc.]
  • Have you learned anything interesting today?

Take notes

When you exchange business cards with someone, jot a quick note as to what you were talking about, things to follow up on, and maybe a reminder of what the person looked like. That way when you’re going through your new stack of business cards at the end of the day, you won’t come up completely blank on who that person was.

Just jot a simple note like, “Curly black hair, glasses, talked about after school initiatives, email research re: drama program.” If it’s a long event like a conference, you may want to take breaks during the day to jot down notes about things you need to follow up on. Otherwise, take time as soon as you get home to write up a quick recap.

Introduce others, and be inclusive

One of the hardest parts about being a shy person at a networking event is that awkward moment when you try to join an already-happening conversation, and your attempt falls flat on its face because no one draws you in. Going back to the first point (that many other people at this event are shy, too), make it a point to always be making introductions.

When you see someone lurking on the fringes of your conversation, physically open space for him and introduce yourself and the others you’re talking to. What this does is not only give you the chance to meet another person, but it also positions you as the a person who knows everybody – even if you’ve just met them.

Follow up!

It amazes me how few people follow up after events. If you want to make a good impression, be one of that 1% who’s prompt about networking followup. Set aside an hour within the next few days to crank out those emails. They don’t have to be long – a quick “great to meet you!” is completely fine. Invite local contacts to meet for coffee if that seems appropriate, and follow up on any promises you made to send someone a link to a website, or introduce them to a colleague. (You jotted those to-do’s down on their business cards, right?)

How do you make the most of networking events? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Really great tips, Jessie! Especially this one: Recognize that others are shy, too.

Another I’d add: Don’t let mobile devices become a crutch! It’s so easy for us to just go head down, acting busy in the world at the end of our fingers. It’s also easy to think that others are busy when they’re on their phones and then we don’t reach out for fear that we’re ‘bothering them.’ Let’s put our cell phones away and engage with the people around us!

Carol Garceau

These are solid, specific tips that is great advice for not only introverts, but perhaps those who are extroverts who miss meeting some incredibly interesting introverts who have a hard time making the first contact. Many times articles like these give fairly general tips, but there are actually many things here that I am going to incorporate into my networking opportunities. Although I am an introvert I am actually a Trainer for my very large state department and once prepared and warmed up am pretty dynamic in front of a group. However, that is because I am the subject matter expert in a position of having to talk to a group. Attending group events is another story. If I am brought into the conversation I do very well at interacting and people are usually surprised I describe myself as shy, but starting conversations is my downfall. Remembering there are others like me is key, but other useful tips such as discreetly taking notes for follow up and to remember who was who the day after an event is a good idea. Thank you!

Jessie Kwak

Taking notes is the best thing I ever started doing at networking events. Otherwise all that good information and inspiration just disappears!

Pam Steele

In general I look forward to reading various things from gov/loop. “Introvert’s Guide to Networking” is great for real life tips for Introverts like me… I find that the articles I read are very pertinent and practical. Thanks!

Stephen Durell

Great tips! Being the only male (and a life-long introvert) at a conference with 250 women really put the pressure on. I’ve found that a “power” shirt and/or some great shoes really help draw people in and I don’t have to do much but shake their hand and be ready to talk.
It also helps to go with someone who is not an introvert and stick with them during networking periods.

Jessie Kwak

Stephen, I’m really glad to hear that you have a “power shirt” for conferences – when I wrote the tip on wearing something memorable, I was hoping it wasn’t too gendered! Glad to hear that guys have their go-to “I feel awesome” clothes, too. 🙂

Susan Purkiss

I really enjoyed reading this, I do not describe myself as an introvert and I do not think others would too. But when networking at events I often feel a slight fear when trying to keep conversations going. I like the tip about inviting others into the circle, I do try to this so people do not feel discluded. It can sometimes be an issue if there are a few people from the same organisation who tend to stick together and may not be as open as they would if on their own. Thanks for the tips.

kyriake harrt

Great tips, thanks! I, at times, will just sit and watch people but smile and give eye contact. Most times others will initiate a conversation. I think if you look confident and happy you’re a magnet.