During my career I have often attended conferences, seminars, workshops and meetings.
These meetings are occasions where ideas are shared, progress and scientific advancement are celebrated and key co-operations are born.
Generally, a significant amount of time is dedicated to “networking”, to meeting, chatting and getting to know others working in a similar or allied field.
Early on in my career, the term “networking” often filled me with dread, particularly as I am an introvert….the thought of “putting myself out there”, of being in a room full of people who apparently know each other and who are chatting loudly and me standing there at the edge of the room, like a wallflower, or Billy-no-mates…it didn’t really sound like my cup of tea.
And I know that I am not alone. It is clear that networking at conferences or events does not come easily to us introverts.
Fortunately, over the years I have developed “survival” tricks; strategies and approaches to put the “fun” and “curiosity” into networking. So much so, that I actually now look forward to the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals, passionate and enthusiastic about the possibilities and opportunities of the future. I hope that they might give you some ideas too.
7 top networking tips for introverts
1. Smile and relax the shoulders
When we are apprehensive, daunted or feeling a little uncomfortable we tend to tense our shoulders. Sometimes we don’t even realise we are doing it. So before the function begins, dive into the nearest bathroom and lock yourself in a cubicle….not to throw up but to do these simple exercises to help release that nervous, pent-up tension.
a. Move your shoulders up and down – as if you are trying to touch your ears with your shoulders. Do this about 15-20 times, quickly.
b. Put your hands above your head and make and unmake a fist with your hands. Again 15-20 times. Repeat with your hands by your side (15-20 times).
c. Shake your arms out – for about 30 seconds.
d. Finally the last one (and you will thank me for suggesting you hide in a cubicle) – is scrunch your whole face up tight, like you have eaten a whole lemon, hold it for 15 seconds and release but as you release open your mouth wide like you are yawning. Repeat 3 times.
If you do this, believe you me, you will feel a little daft, but let that daftness spread out over you and you will notice that a smile creeps across your face…keep that smile there.
Now when you step back out into the networking location you will notice that your shoulders are now a little lower and that you feel a bit more relaxed – the tension will have dissipated slightly. Plus you will have a smile on your face.
Your body language will be recognised subconsciously by others. Your lower, less tense shoulders and a smile on your face portrays you as an approachable open person, who will be easy to chat with…. plus you will feel 100 times more at ease. Trust me!
2. Be curious and make it fun!
Give yourself a little challenge to learn 3 new things, to connect with 5 new people. Know your intention for the networking time – it makes it more focussed.
3. Give yourself a time limit.
E.g. “I will spend 1.5 hours at this event and then I will leave.” Now in that 1.5 hours commit yourself fully and do the very best to meet with or speak to those individuals you want to connect with. Sometimes you will find that with this approach even though you have given yourself an “out” you actually do begin to enjoy yourself and so you don’t mind staying slightly longer.
4. Find an excuse to start a conversation, perhaps with another “lone-ranger”.
There will be other people there just as daunted and unsure as you are. Hard as it is, try and go up to them and say “hello”. I find that this is easier if food or drink is involved. Whilst standing in a queue for food or drink you have one person in front and one person behind, they are the only two people in the room now as far as you are concerned. Sometimes circumstances will be kind and something will happen which will give you a reason to speak to them: perhaps the choice of food, the lovely desserts, how slow the queue is moving…it doesn’t take much to break the ice. Remember to keep smiling!
5. It’s not you – it’s them.
Sometimes people are just rude….Don’t worry if you fail at your first attempt to speak to someone. Just dust yourself down and try to start up a conversation with someone else. Keep smiling!
6. Factor in a break. Networking is exhausting.
Sometimes, I find that after about 45 minutes to an hour I am beginning to flag…all this smiling and talking. There is no harm in grabbing 5 minutes of fresh air, plus your ear drums can take a rest too. You can just take a few minutes in a quieter location to recuperate. Then when you feel ready you can head back in. (Repeat suggestion 1 if that helps!)
7. Reward yourself.
Have something to look forward to for after the networking session, be it curling up with a good book, taking a hot bath. But make some time just for you before you go to bed and remember to be kind on yourself….networking events can be dangerous, scary places for us introverts, and you survived!