I was presenting at a symposium last week, and someone came up and asked if I ever did presentations on networking for introverts. I pitched the idea to the organization sponsoring the symposium, and “Presto!” I’ll be presenting on the topic next year.
The same day I saw a post by @ThomSinger, a friend of mine, on his week of living like an introvert. Yeah, the Universe was sending a pretty obvious message, so I’m responding by doing my own post. By the way, read Thom’s post too. He didn’t quite get living like an introvert, but it was an excellent effort for an extrovert, and some of his observations were interesting.
Anyway, first let’s clear up on common misconception. Introversion does not equal shy. I’m an introvert. I’m NOT shy. According to Wikipedia, “shyness (also called diffidence) is the feeling of apprehension, lack of comfort, or awkwardness experienced when a person is in proximity to, approaching, or being approached by other people, especially in new situations or with unfamiliar people.”
I’ve got no problem walking up to total strangers and starting a conversation. It doesn’t cause apprehension or awkwardness. However, it is tiring. Enough such conversations later, all I want to do is head home and curl up with a good book (and maybe a cat). Some of what Thom talked about in his experiment was shy behavior, not introverted behavior. Introverts recharge alone. Extroverts recharge in the company of others. That’s the basic difference between the two.
So what’s an introvert to do? By definition, networking is a tiring behavior for an introvert. The short answer is energy management. Accept that networking situations are going to drain you and plan accordingly.
1. Don’t plan back-to-back events. Leave some time in between for recharging. Also, don’t commit to more than one or two evening events in a week. Try to keep most evenings free for “you” time. That’s worked for me. I can go all out during the day, meeting with clients, referral partners and prospects as much as needed, as long as I can go home in the evening to my book (and also to my completely extroverted dog *sigh*).
2. Set goals. Everyone needs to set networking goals. But it’s especially vital for introverts. Goals like “speak with three new people” do two things. Of course they keep us focused, but they also let us know when it’s okay to quit.
3. Know when you’ve hit your limit and honor it. Sometimes you’ll not meet your goal. You’ll talk to only two people and be wiped out. It’s okay. Take a break, if that works. If not, leave the event and come back another day. Exhausting yourself today will only bite you tomorrow.
4. Plan downtime. This one is especially important during all-day or multi-day events. I both love and hate them. I love meeting the new people and getting to go to cool places. I hate not having any time to myself. There’s always another seminar, informal gathering or other excuse for extroverts to do their thing. I can’t keep going like that, so I don’t. I look at conference schedules and find my alone time. I don’t go bar hopping in the evening. Sure, it’s a good way to connect with people informally, but I’d be so tired and cranky that I’d be rubbish at it, so I don’t try.
Remember, introverts make fine networkers. Don’t let your introversion get in the way. Use your biggest strength (ability to listen and know when to shut up) and find strategies to manage your energy.
Any other introverts want to share your techniques?