Networking for Introverts: How to Let People Know You Exist (Without Having to Talk to Them)

Just because you'd rather stay home and read...doesn't mean you should

by Samantha Pollack

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Here’s what’s up: if your livelihood depends on a full client roster, a healthy email list, fans who spray your content all over the social medias…or any or all of the above…

That means that people have to know you exist. Lots of people.

And while the Interwebs make it possible for even the most introverted hermit crab to build a following without ever leaving the house, I (a card-carrying introvert) submit that you should take a serious look at live, in-person networking as a way to build your business.

For two reasons.

#1: Let’s assume you’re a yoga teacher, massage therapist, wellness coach, or creative. (Any or all of the above.) When it comes to crashing a networking event, your biggest hurdle is also your biggest advantage: nobody else does what you do. You can corner the market, so to speak.

#2: Even if you never get a single client from your endeavors, telling people over and over again about what you’re up to will:

  • build your confidence
  • get you really good at talking about what you do in a way that makes sense (even to Guys in Suits…more on them later)
  • serve as a constant reminder that yes, you are a business owner, and you are badass enough at what you do to go out in public and talk about it to strangers (see: confidence)

Now, say you’re an introvert (like me). Walking into a roomful of strangers is just about the least enjoyable activity you can imagine.

But before you get heart palpitations and cotton mouth, consider this: I’ve been attending the same networking group for over three years — and through that, I’ve been invited to many, many more; some of which I’ve even voluntarily attended.

And I’ve put together this handy survival guide for you, based on the different types of networking events you might encounter should you take my advice. It also includes tips to help you find the best events to attend based on your profession, disposition, and…well, your pain threshold. 😉

NETWORKING: THE INTROVERT’S SURVIVAL GUIDE

Type of Event: The “Mixer.” I started with the worst one, you guys.

Usually hosted by the Chamber of Commerce or some other professional organization, this is just what it sounds like: a bunch of business-y business people, glad-handing each other and throwing their business cards around to every Tom, Dick and Harry. (P.S. — I’ve been waiting forever to use those guys in a sentence.)

How to find them: Google your city’s Chamber of Commerce, to start with. If you can’t find anything there, do a broader search for “Networking events in [your city].”

Meetup.com might also yield some decent results. And these groups always have a “point person,” someone you can contact with questions before you just show up.

Your strategy: First of all, there’s usually wine at these events. Find it and have a glass immediately.

Level 1: The Camper

Find a comfortable corner or seat, free from the jostling elbows and loud talking, and camp out.

DON’T: pull out your phone, or no one will talk to you.

DO: engage in some old-fashioned people watching. Pretend you’re a sultan waiting to receive your visitors. Turn that “awkward-introvert-not-talking-to-anyone” feeling into a “I’m-so-cool-I-can-just-sit-here-and-wait-for-people-to-talk-to-ME” kind of thing.

And you know what? They will. In a totally manageable, one-at-a-time fashion.

Level 2: The CIA Agent

While you’re camping out (with your wine), scan the crowd and notice as many details about as many people as you can. Sooner or later, you’ll find someone who “sparkles.”

They’ll have a genuine smile, clear eyes, and they’ll be sort of…beaming.

Watch that person for a while, and when you feel ready, go talk to them. If you only make one contact at this event, this sparkly guy or gal is a good bet (and the most likely to pay off in some way down the line).

What to watch out for…

  • #1: Guys in Suits. This particular breed of networker completely sucks. Guys in Suits are usually middle-aged corporate guys (or occasionally younger, ex-frat boys just getting in the game) who glaze over as soon as you mention the word “yoga” or “health.” They shove their business card in your hand before you even get your name out, and feign interest in what you do out of politeness. They don’t mean any harm, and there’s no avoiding them, so just do your best to focus on the sparkly people and get the F outta there.
  • #2 Woo-woo “want”trepreneurs who want to “collaborate” with you. You can spot these wannabes by their style of dress and hairdo (usually on the sloppy/outdated side). Also they are rather vague about what they do, and WHY it would be good for you to work together. Mostly these folks are nice and well-intentioned; it’s just not going to benefit you in any way to build a relationship with them. And you might get stuck in a never ending conversation with them.

Type of event: The Formal Meeting

This meeting is put on by a group specifically formed for networking and referral purposes (more on these later on). It might be a lunch thing, or it might just be a bring-your-own-coffee deal. But the basics are the same:

A few minutes of mingling, followed by a sit-down meeting during which each member takes a turn standing up and delivering a 30-60 second commercial about his/her business. The purpose of these groups is to pass referrals to each other, so there’s usually a part where that happens too.

Which means: Talking to strangers AND public speaking. Maybe that first one wasn’t so bad?

How to find them: The best group of this type is called BNI (Business Networking International). They have chapters everywhere, and they only allow one member of each profession per chapter. (Full disclosure: this is the group I attend.)

BNI costs money, which means that its members are all serious about helping each other succeed. And they will have known each other for a long time, so the vibe is usually pretty friendly.

You can visit a BNI meeting for free, and they happen every week. Also try Femfessionals, which — as the name implies — is an all-female networking collective.

Your strategy: Bring a friend.

Or better yet, do some pre-game research on the members and see if you already know one of them. Then you can go as that person’s guest, and they’ll be obligated to make sure you don’t have a heart attack.

Level 1: The Observer

You can always show up to these things, find the person in charge, and say you just want to observe, and then do exactly that. This is kind of chicken-shit; I won’t lie to you. But depending on where you fall on the comfort-panic scale when it comes to public speaking, do what you gotta do.

Level 2: The “Fake It ‘til You Make It”

Otherwise known as the “Fuck It” strategy, this entails just pretending for 45-90 minutes that you are NOT sweating through your fancy business-lady shirt, that you DO feel totally fine talking to strangers, and that this whole thing is just a wild, crazy adventure and you love every second of it.

Level 3: The Adrenaline Junkie

A while back, I used to practice Tae Kwon Do. And when it came time for me to break my first board, I was more nervous than I’ve ever been for anything in my life. But at the moment of truth, I realized that all that adrenaline was necessary for me to put my foot through that piece of wood. Hiiiii-YA!

Same goes for your nerves when it comes to meeting strangers and public speaking. Let it flow through you, baby. Like an orgasm…sort of.

Keep this in mind too…

Everyone there is either just as nervous as you, or they WERE when they first showed up and didn’t know anyone. Nobody wants to see you crash and burn, and most of the time people are very welcoming and supportive at these things.

Just breathe. It’ll all be over soon.

And if you really can’t take it…

The failsafe: Hiding in the Bathroom

I’m deadly serious, people. And I still do this when I’m just not feelin’ it.

Here’s how it works: Go to the restroom. Lock the door. Have a seat. Or, do some Boogie-Nights-style psyching yourself up in the mirror (maybe leave your pants on though). You stay in there as long as you need to, boo.

There we go. You can no longer use your introversion as an excuse not to tell people about your biz.

And the more you practice, the better you’ll get.

Until one day, you realize…

You like it.

Hiiiiii—YA!

Have you developed any strategies for Introverted Networking? Share them in the comments below. We’ll read them next time we’re hiding in the bathroom.

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Samantha Pollack

Samantha Pollack traveled a winding road through personal training, health coaching, and the restaurant business, before hitting her stride as a full-time writer. In 2010, she bid a fond “peace out” to her demanding career in Boston and relocated to the mountains of Asheville, NC. Since then, she’s launched (...read more

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Read 2 comments

  1. Pollyanna
    says

    I love this, Samantha! You are talking straight to me. And I have been dipping my toe in the world of networking lately and finding (just quietly) that I like it. I love the bathroom strategy, I will certainly use that. I also like the idea of sitting alone and waiting for one on one visitors. I’m glad I’m not the only introvert casing the networking game!!

  2. Lindsay
    says

    This was an amazing article, and I have related to every character you mentioned… Perfect! absolutely love your style of writing!