So, someone told you that your field is all about networking and now, as a terribly shy or introverted person, you’re ready to give up on it altogether. It doesn’t have to be that way! With time and practice, you can learn to be a more self-assured, talkative person and all-around better at networking. Plus, there are plenty of ways to network that’ll sound a lot more like an introvert’s speed than talking to everyone at a huge event.
Social skills are like a muscle that you need to constantly work out. If you’re naturally quiet, struggle with shyness or don’t feel confident in social interactions, you can still come across as outgoing and confident with practice behind you, adequate preparation and by giving off the impression that you’re confident (even if you’re not there yet!). Think of going out and networking as a performance you’re putting on. Still be yourself, but a more outgoing version.
1. Practice and Prepare
Lots of practice is the key to owning every networking event you attend. Even some of the loudest, most confident people don’t know how to network when they’re at the start of their career journey.
Practice making casual conversation whenever you go out and gradually watch yourself become better at speaking to new people. Your practice can even extend as far as asking friends and family to roleplay as hiring managers or people you’ll potentially be networking with and doing your best to make conversations with them.
If you find that you’re struggling to know what to say, prepare well beforehand – jot down questions you’d like to ask people and answers you’d give to commonly asked interview questions. Create an elevator pitch for yourself and identify highlights of your career you’d like to discuss. If you’re going to a large-scale event, pick out discussion points related to the field. Plan these and memorize them as best as you can – you don’t have to say them word-for-word when they come up, but having detailed plans of what you’re going to say will make conversation come easier than thinking on your feet
Once all of this planning allows you to gain confidence in yourself or strengthens your speaking abilities, you won’t even need to prepare so much beforehand.
2. Establish Positive Body Language
You can come across as more confident or less reserved than you are simply through your demeanor. Always stand up straight and maintain a great posture, and walk around with your head held high, like you’re walking with a destination and purpose. Maintain eye contact, smile and show you’re actively listening by nodding along with what people are saying to you. Don’t walk with your head down, don’t fidget and don’t cross your arms – maintain an image of confidence and openness, even if you don’t feel like doing it.
If you have the misfortune of fumbling while you’re speaking, people will still pick up on your body language and see that you’re projecting confidence otherwise – they’ll see it as a brief mishap, not a sign of insecurity or shyness
Another great thing about positive body language is you tend to feel more confident in yourself the more you do it! Projecting the image of extroversion and confidence is a great way to fake it until you make it.
3. Network Online
If you’re introverted or shy, you might find it a lot easier to do the bulk of your networking online. During online conversations, you can take time away from conversations to recharge, and have a longer amount of time to think about what you’re saying to cull your nerves.
Try reaching out to interesting people on LinkedIn, or through other social media avenues, if you have a professional account. There are plenty of Facebook groups out there dedicated to connecting with people within the same career fields.
You can even take these conversations to video chatting platforms like Zoom. You’ll still have to meet these people face-to-face, which can be nerve-wracking, but it’ll be a lot easier in the comfort of your home. There are plenty of networking events that take place over video chat nowadays, too – now’s a great time to take advantage of those!
4. Bring a Friend
Some people say the best way for an introvert to make friends is to first befriend an extrovert and let them lead the way. This applies to networking, too! If you’re heading to a huge networking event, try and find an extroverted friend or associate in your field to come with you. Don’t rely on them for the full event, but they can definitely help to get you started in talking to people around the event. After participating in a few conversations involving them, hopefully you’ll be able to break off on your own!
It’ll be helpful to study your extroverted friend’s body language and conversation starters, too – you can take their ideas with you as you head around the room and to future events.
5. Seek Out Other Introverts
When you’re at a big event and nervous or overwhelmed by the thought of talking to extroverts, look around the outskirts of the room and see if you can find people who feel the same way. Is anyone standing in the corner of the room by themselves? Hiding by the buffet table for something to do? Approach them and it’ll be a lot less stressful when you realize other people at this event feel just like you do. You can even be a little vulnerable and bond over your introversion or shyness: “I love events like this, but they make me so nervous!”
6. Speak One-On-One
If networking at big events sounds like too much for you to handle, try to schedule coffee or lunch dates with people in your field to network. You and the other person will only have each other to focus on, which should make socializing a lot easier for you. Bring your prepared points but try to let the conversation flow as naturally as possible. Once you’re well-practiced at one-on-one networking, you can bring that energy to bigger groups of people moving forward.
Practice, stay positive and take your time while you’re learning to do all of this. Don’t feel embarrassed if you fall into silence, get overwhelmed or fumble your words, either – it’s all part of practicing. Each conversation you have is a step towards full confidence while networking. The more you put yourself out there, the easier it’ll become to do so! And who knows? Networking might end up being your favorite part of the job hunt!
Want more insider info on moving forward in your career as an introvert? Ask Style Nine to Five founder, Christie Lohr, One Career Question!
Emily Morrison is a media professional with a passion for writing, film and popular culture.