3 tips to help you work the room without freaking out inside.
As an introvert, being good at networking never came naturally to me. I think that’s one of the reasons why I avoided parties in college. A room full of strangers that I have nothing in common with makes me hella nervous. Combine that with my general distaste for alcohol back then, and you could count on me to decline a party invite!
I couldn’t go my entire college career without meeting people though, so I knew I had to do something. During my freshman year, I joined an organization called Merchandising Inc. Surprisingly, the whole point of that organization was to network! I realized that I was willing to attend networking events if they were in my best interest to go. The thought of meeting other students to collaborate with and chat about internships/careers made me really excited!
For three years, I was a member of that organization in college. I can honestly say it helped me grow as a person, because I got used to talking about my goals and interests. From there, I felt confident enough to participate in scholarship competitions. Doing so exposed me to an even greater level of networking. I traveled and met students from across the country, along with company recruiters and executives. Over time, introducing myself became instinctual, and a room full of people wasn’t so intimidating anymore. I embraced networking as a chance to step out of my comfort zone, and challenge myself to grow!
Soon enough, I was attending networking events by myself away from school. I remember going to the Create & Cultivate conference in Dallas alone, because the speaker line-up was SICK, and I absolutely could not miss it. Nowadays, I even go to fashion shows alone with the intention of networking, and it’s no big deal!
I know overcoming a fear of networking can be difficult, especially as an introvert. But, the last thing you want to do is miss out on opportunities simply because you’re introverted! Fortunately, your ability to network is a skill you can improve, just like anything else. The more often you practice networking, the more comfortable you’ll feel when chatting with strangers, and the easier it becomes!
Over the past five years, I’ve attended my fair share of networking events. In doing so, I’ve fine-tuned how to work a room as an introvert, and today I’m sharing 3 tips to help you conquer your next networking event with confidence. 😀
So don’t let introversion hold you back! Keep reading to discover how I became comfortable with networking (as an introvert)!
1. Lead with a compliment.
When making an introduction, I’ll typically lead with a compliment. For example, I’ve attended conferences where I’m waiting for a speaker session to begin, and I’m seated next to a stranger in the audience. To break the ice, I’ll complement something he or she is wearing. The complement can be as easy as saying, “Wow, I really like your watch,” after settling into your seat. From there, the stranger will likely say thank you, and may even complement something you have on, too! From there, you can respond with, “You’re welcome. My name is so and so. What’s yours?”, and really get the ball rolling with them.
You may be wondering, why not just introduce yourself to them right off the bat? Well, I recommend leading with a compliment, because it’s way more personal and sincere than asking, “Hi, what’s your name?!” straight out of nowhere. Naturally, a compliment breaks down any walls the stranger may have up by identifying something you both have in common. Since you said something kind, he or she will automatically assume that you’re a kind person, and will feel comfortable opening up to you.
There’s been many occasions where a compliment has led me to talk at length with a total stranger. For instance, asking about their watch could lead us to start talking about where they got it, why that watch is important to them, and eventually, why they’re even at that conference!
TIP: To establish common-ground fast, start your introductions with a compliment, and let the conversation unfold!
2. Make it a game.
If you’re naturally competitive like me, this could be a great networking tactic for you. Personally, I like to be very intentional with my time and money. If I purchased a ticket for a networking event, my number one goal is to do just that: NETWORK!
When I show up to the event, I make it my #1 goal to get as many contacts as I can before I leave. By contacts, I don’t mean just snatching up business cards from booth tables. I’m talking about making genuine connections, holding legit conversations, and walking away knowing exactly how you and someone else could be mutually beneficial to each other. These contacts are people you could follow-up with via email, and they’d honestly remember talking to you.
I know what you’re thinking. Going to a networking event with a game-mentality is too much pressure. Wouldn’t that ruin the fun of it? Well, it could. But in reality, this is the only way to know if attending the event was even worth your time and money. Being the introvert that I am, the first thing I do after I get home from networking is reflect. I lay out all the business cards I was handed, and think back to all the interactions I had. If I reached my goal of acquiring x number of mutually beneficial contacts, then I know I beat the game. If no one really sticks out in my mind, and I only care to follow-up with one or two people, then I know I lost the game.
Networking as a game is a simple concept. Yet, I find that walking into an event with this mentality instantly puts introversion on the backburner. Suddenly, you’re less concerned with making introductions, and more focused on the final take away from each conversation.
TIP: By making networking a game, you set your eye on the final prize, and make the most of your time and energy!
3. Buddy-up & tackle.
Of the three, this tip is my favorite, because it’s what I do most often. When you buddy-up and tackle, you meet someone at the event right away, and leverage your connection with them to make the following introductions easier.
For example, I went to a mixer one evening, and I parked my car in a lot across the street. While I was paying at the machine, I noticed another girl dressed nicely next to me. She asked me if I was going to the mixer too, and I said, “YES!” She was like, “Oh great, we can go in together!”
As soon as she said that, I felt so relieved, because I would’ve known absolutely no one there. I found a friend in her right away, and we immediately bonded over the fact that she worked in the retail industry. We checked into the event together, and started working the room as a team. We’d approach one group of girls, and I’d introduce both her and myself to them. Then, at the next group, she’d return the favor by introducing herself and me.
Interjecting into a group’s existing conversation can be so intimidating. Trust me, I know! However, if you try it with someone else by your side, you’ll play off their energy and feel drastically less anxious. Think of them as your safety net. If someone’s rude to you when you say hi, your buddy is there to catch you when you fall. You can both walk away laughing at how ridiculous he or she was, and it suddenly becomes more amusing than embarrassing!
I’m not saying you have to stick with your buddy for the entirety of the event. At some point, you should definitely branch out and try to make some introductions alone. As an introvert though, it’s frightening to jump head first into a room full of people and conversation. Buddying up makes things easier!
TIP: Buddy up with someone you met in the parking lot, waiting in line, or even in the restroom prior to the event starting. Treat meeting them as an opportunity to practice your introduction. Naturally, you two will stick together going into the event. You’ll help each other with the next introduction, and then the next one. Before you know it, you’ll thank them for being your wingwoman, and conquer the rest of the event independently with ease!
So that’s it guys! 🙂 Those are the ways I became comfortable with networking as an introvert. Which of these tips are you most likely to try at a networking event? If you’re an introvert, what other tricks do you use to ‘work a room’ comfortably? Comment below!
Photography: Fox & Pine