Whenever I tell people I’m an introvert, they don’t believe me.
I regularly speak to large audiences and pitch my startup to investors who don’t exactly look like me, a young Filipina woman. I’ve coached hundreds of other people on how to be confident when pitching their dreams. I’ve perfected the art of connecting deeply with people at parties and making them feel warm inside.
Held up to our stereotypes about introverts, I don’t fit into that label.
Luckily, there’s been a recent boom of discussion and appreciation of introverts and the role we play in our society as leaders both behind the scenes and in the spotlight. The best concept I’ve come across is the difference between “outgoing introverts” and “shy extroverts.”
Introversion vs. extroversion is about where you draw energy and replenishment from – from being alone or from being with people. The “outgoing” or “shy” part is about how easy you find it to talk to new people and so on.
People around you mostly see either the “outgoing” or “shy” dimensions of you and automatically think the former correlates to extroverts and the latter is only for introverts. They’re wrong!
I call myself an “outgoing introvert” – which means I’ve mastered the skills of connecting with new people with (what looks like) ease but there’s nothing I want more than to escape the crowd and sit alone in the fresh air with my cheese plate.
Building up those skills took effort and time – so, I’d love to share 11 quick networking tips for people who “hate” networking:
1. I ask surprising questions.
Forget “So, what are you working on?” After a quick intro, I jump to questions that wake people up. My favorites lately have been “What’s keeping you up at night these days?,” “What is delighting you recently?,” and “Do you have any fun side hustles right now?”
Is it a little awkward at first? Maybe. But if you pretend it’s the most natural thing in the world, people usually are pleasantly surprised and happy for the entertainment value of leaving their usual canned questions and answers aside.
2. I play favorites, and I compliment sparingly and precisely.
If I’m talking with a group of four or five people, I have no shame about paying laser-focused attention to one or two of the people I’m connecting with most. Over the course of the conversation, I’ll find something truly unique about them to notice and remark on – not their clothes, not their job. Something about their personality shining through in the moment.
3. I set “goals” for myself.
Just like in sales, it’s much easier to track activities than it is to track outcomes. I can’t know that I’ll make three new best friends or advisors in one night, but I can promise myself that I’ll talk to at least five people before I give myself permission to go home. By the time number five comes and goes, I’ve become more comfortable and often stay and keep socializing.
4. I know how to take care of myself.
When I get overwhelmed, I know what to do. I get some fresh air, hang out in the corner for a while surveying the scene, or take a walk to the bathroom to breathe alone for a second and come back. Figuring out what self-care means to you in the context of different kinds of events is critical.
5. When I can, I find a job at the party.
Especially if I’m at a more personal event hosted at someone’s home, I make a beeline for the host or hostess and get someone to put me to work. When you’re helping pour drinks or chop vegetables, people always come around to you! It’s a great, efficient way to meet folks.
6. I sleep in on days I’m going to network.
If I know that I’m going to be at a networking-heavy event in the evening, I fuel my batteries by sleeping in and keeping the beginning of my day very light.
7. When I connect with someone, I don’t ask for their business card.
Instead, when they invariably offer to connect on LinkedIn, I deliver my pitch – “How about we skip LinkedIn and go straight to Facebook?” I use this when I have a friend crush on someone and want to be up front about my enthusiasm about meeting them.
8. I almost never give out my own business cards.
If someone takes the effort to find me and contact me after meeting – I will usually acknowledge that persistence and meet up with them. Especially women and women of color.
9. In fact, I don’t pitch my business.
See the first tip – I try to delve deeper anyways, but if someone asks me what I do, I say something along the lines of “I build safe spaces to talk about sex online.” I don’t feel the need to launch into a long pitch about O.school in every conversation. Those who are actually interested will make it clear, and then I am happy to share!
10. With the best connections, I schedule follow-ups there and then.
Here’s a line you can use when you make an especially good connection at an event: “I’m busy, you’re busy – why don’t we pull out our phones right now and figure out when we can grab coffee next week?” This has saved me SO. MUCH. TIME.
The best thing I ever did was schedule a follow-up brunch. That’s right. I met a group of awesome ladies at a conference, and I knew that if we all tried to schedule individual catch-ups…someone would get lost in the shuffle. So, I suggested we organize a group brunch, and it was a hit! The best people often have the least time. Figure out a way to make it work anyways.
11. I keep in mind that people don’t love or hate me – in fact, most don’t really care.
Whatever you think your small quirks or flaws are, people are mostly too busy worrying about their own to focus about yours. Remembering this helps me feel free to be myself and see which connections flow naturally from that.
Even if you’re like me and much prefer a quiet night in over mingling with (amazing!) people at events, authentic networking is a skill you can improve on and grow.