Networking is needed as an entrepreneur because you need to build relationships with potential investors, potential customers, potential advisors and intermediaries to others who can help you fulfill your dream.
However, if you are more on the introverted side, going to networking events and “working the room” to collect two dozen business cards and make two lunch appointments with total strangers within 90 minutes can be daunting.
As an introvert, you are not wired to necessarily feel comfortable to “own the room” with a loud, assertive presence that seems to magically capture everyone’s attention. That’s just not you. Networking events can be draining for you. You overthink them or feel awkward.
Fear not. All is not lost.
You can leverage your strengths as a more inward-focused person and pick your spots to be vocal, assertive and, yes, effective. In some ways, an introvert has certain advantages over extroverts, such as a quicker ability to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships.
First of all, the good news is that you can be yourself. Almost half the people in the room likely have a similar internal tendency as you do – more toward introversion. No one is expecting you to put on a show. People like authentic people. Not fakeness.
Here’s the key: Focus on building a great network – not on “networking.”
You do that by earning people’s trust, one person at a time. You can do it offline (networking event) and online (social media); a mix of both is recommended. You can look for opportunities to meet people in more intimate settings. More one-on-one meetings or lunch meetings. Join a MeetUp in the area of your interest. Volunteer your time at a place or at an event where you can meet people. Work in a coworking space and slowly get to know the people around you.
There are many ways for you to build your network. You just have to have the courage to try out and explore different methods and approaches to learn what works – and what doesn’t – for you and your startup.
When you are at a big networking events, you can either bring an “event buddy” to help you move around the room more comfortably, or you can simply mention to new people you meet that you are a little introverted and shy, but you are looking to talk to new people to get yourself a little out of your comfort zone. (Do you know that people tend to be happiest when they are slightly out of their comfort zone?)
You can also pick your spots in a conversation to share a keen insight. You don’t have to always be talking. It is a good idea to prepare for questions at events and to have some brief talking points ready.
Remember to smile! Smiling is a time-tested way to win over the interest of others. As humans, we are instinctively drawn to smiles because they represent a form of trust and safety. Smile when you’re out networking with other entrepreneurs, investors, and potential customers. It’s a very simple, and yet highly effective, way for you to catch their interest.
Also, as an introvert, you are likely more comfortable with fewer, yet deeper relationships. Use this to your advantage. Follow up with and keep in regular touch with your contacts / connections. The goal with networking is not just to develop a massive roster of random people whom you never contact. That’s a flawed approach. Instead, you want to make sure that you are touching base with the people you meet and find a way to add value to their life, whether it is with some advice, whether it’s listening to them, or whether it’s simply connecting them to someone else in your network.
Here are two more ideas are if you continue to find yourself struggling with how to network:
- Create your own networking event. By being in control of it, you may feel more comfortable with it because you have a “purpose” at the event. Use novelty to create a memorable experience.
- As a last resort, you can outsource by hiring a third-party to introduce you to key businesspeople.
Just because you more on the introverted side doesn’t mean you cannot build a great network. In fact, being an introvert is one of your most important weapons as a rising entrepreneur. This TED Talk will help you understand why introverts are so powerful in the world!