How to Rock Networking as an Introvert

This grant was  provided to me by Collective Bias, Inc. All opinions are mine alone. #SoFabUOTR #CollectiveBias

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Have you ever been that girl at a conference or networking event that totally and completely rocked it? You were going from person to person, handing out business cards (like a boss), chatting it up with other attendees, and making small talk like you invented the stuff. Right on cue, you laugh, throw out a perfectly-timed quip , and the whole room goes nuts because you are just that girl. As you make your rounds around the room, people are quick to want to get to know you and you’re ready to capitalize on the opportunity by wowing them with your perfectly polished elevator speech: “Hi! I’m Vaneese and I’m amazing. I’m a rock star at pretty much everything and anything I touch turns to diamond. Who are you?” Folks’ mouths hang open because ya’ll, there’s a unicorn in the room.

…Too bad I’m not that girl.

Nope. Not at all. In fact, I’m the total opposite of that girl. And while I look at her with all sorts of admiration and awe, as an introvert, I’ve learned that when it comes to networking, I’ve got to play my strengths. And my strengths are not quick quips, soft laughter, or small talk. Nope. Not at all.

Networking Tips for Introverts

This weekend, I had the awesome opportunity to attend Social Fabric University On the Road in Minneapolis. While Minneapolis is definitely one of my favorite cities EVER, I think I was even more stoked to be attending this one day, intensive blog conference. I would get to learn, apply what I learned in real time, and see what was trending in blogland. Yeah, I was pretty excited. At the same time, though, a small part of me was dreading it because…networking. I would have to talk to people I didn’t know about things I didn’t care about until forever and everyone would be talking (and tweeting) about the weird girl over in the corner in the fetal position because she lost her mind after attempting small talk. I so didn’t want to be that girl.

As the week before the conference went on, I got less excited and more nervous and on the morning of the conference, I was kind of a wreck. But of course I was going, so I said a quick prayer, told myself to just do my best, and walked confidently into the room. And quite honestly, it was one of the best conference and networking experiences I’ve ever had. Here’s how:

  1. I skipped the small talk. Thankfully, I was seated at an amazing table with really personable people. We didn’t chat about the weather or our kids going back to school or about any nonsense that either of us cared about. What we did talk about was how we manage to photograph in the 2.5 hours of sunlight that we get here in the Midwest or how there’s a maximum of pins that one can have on Pinterest and how to get around that. (Did you know that there’s a maximum of 200,000 pins per account? Yeah…me neither!). One table mate and I even talked about this post and how life gets better with age. Totally not blog related, but absolute great conversation.
  2. I didn’t force myself to be someone I wasn’t. I’ll openly admit that I was one of the quieter attendees at my table. As talk about ads, pitching, and site navigation whirled around my head, I listened, nodded, took notes, and interjected where I could add value. And if I couldn’t add value, well, I kept my mouth shut.
  3. I stayed engaged. One of the great things about SoFabUOTR is the interactive nature of the conference. You actually get to do stuff. From practicing a video intro and outro with Sarah Mock to actually getting on our hands, knees, elbows to photograph cupcakes and macarons, we were a super interactive bunch…but within reason.  As an introvert, I love that there were no “group projects” or “Okay, grab a partner!” type stuff. We chatted when we wanted to and when we needed to and it was perfection!
  4. I took a break when I needed it. Around mid-afternoon, I noticed that I was starting to feel a bit sluggish. For me, it wasn’t a question of why because I already knew what was happening: I was becoming drained. That’s the biggest part of introversion, the energy levels.  Although I was around a group of amazing writers and creators, all of their energy was draining mine. But, as an introvert, I’d planned for this. I missed the tail end of a session to recharge in the nearly empty lobby. It’s always a good idea to “break” when everyone else is still in session. That way, you’re not surrounded by people when you need space to be alone.
  5. I chose quality over quantity. It was never a goal of mine to talk with and get business cards from everyone in the room. Nope. Although I didn’t know who exactly would be at the conference, I listened and made a mental note of who I wanted to approach and learn more about. Being an introvert, you have to be really strategic about how and with whom you’re spending your time energy. So, no I didn’t have a stack of business cards at the end of the day, but I had enough and most importantly, I had the ones that were best suited for me.
  6. I stayed until the end, but still skipped the happy hour. Besides the sessions, my favorite part of conferences are definitely the end because it’s prime networking time. As the speakers are wrapping up and getting their things together, it’s a great time to just chat. If I can, I usually help carry something or pack something as we talk. Usually, these conversations are meaningful and longer than anything you’ll get during the rushed convos between sessions. I’ve met some really awesome people this way. Oh, and while happy hour is great, I usually skip it because, well, I can. There’s no rule that you have to attend every session, every breakout, every expo event, every happy hour. Nope! I know my limitations and by the end of the day, I’m tapped out. And that’s okay.

Conferences and networking are usually so overwhelming for me. They are, however, a part of being a professional and building an awesome career. I’ve had to learn how to make them work for me, instead of me trying to work against them. While I wish that more conferences were like SoFabU On the Road, which is truly intimate, engaging, and totally not overwhelming, I know that that’s not everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to conferencing. Even so, I’m certain that these tips for networking as an introvert will come in handy regardless of the setting. They absolutely made a difference for me.

What tips do you have for networking as an introvert?

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