To succeed in business, it’s sometimes necessary to put yourself out there and meet new people. For introverts, connecting with strangers can be intimidating. Possibly downright exhausting. Many assume introverts don’t like networking because they are shy, but that really isn’t the case.

The truth about introverts

While shyness can play a role, all introverts are not necessarily shy. They do tend to be quieter, but that’s likely because they’re more interested in meaningful conversation rather than idle chit chat. Introverts gain energy from solitude, are more introspective, and generally, don’t like to be the center of attention.

There are varying degrees of introversion and extroversion, but most introverts are not fans of forced small talk with strangers. It feels phony to them. Many extroverts, on the other hand, are energized by meeting new people.

Networking basics & conversation starters for networking in person

1. Prepare

Introverts are often good planners, so this is a part of the process where introverts can shine! One of the most common things that introverts worry about in a networking-type situation is running out of things to say. The simple act of preparing conversation topics can relieve stress and get you in your comfort zone.

2. The elevator pitch

If you don’t already have one, develop an elevator pitch. When someone says “so, tell me about yourself!” Or, “what do you do?”, you’ll be ready. The less you are required to think on the spot, the more confidence you’ll have. Need help with your elevator pitch? Start here.

3. Ask questions

Have a go-to list of questions and conversation topics ready for when you’re on the spot to start a discussion or avoid uncomfortable silences. Questions make great conversation starters but try to avoid questions that will only elicit a one-word response. Instead of asking “How was your day?” Try “What was the best – or most interesting – part of your day?”

Other ideas for conversation starters/questions:

  •    “Are you a member of this organization?”
  •    “So, what brings you here tonight?”
  •    “Where are you from?”
  •    “How long have you been coming to these events?”
  •    (If you know where they work) “I’ve heard good things about (company name). How long have you been working there?
  •    “Any special work projects coming up that you are looking forward to?”
  •    “Any big plans for (upcoming season, holiday, weekend, etc.)?
  •    “I am trying to branch out and meet new people. Do you mind if I introduce myself?”

Listen for opportunities to respond appropriately and follow up. Be careful not to pepper other attendees with too many questions. You want to start a pleasant discussion, not an inquisition.

4. Use humor

If you’re comfortable using humor, it’s a wonderful icebreaker. Sometimes just being honest and laughing at yourself can take a lot of pressure off. Try, “This whole networking thing feels super awkward to me. Do you mind if I hang out here with you for a minute?”

Other suggestions for humorous conversation starters:

  •    “Have you tried that shrimp dip? Wow. I think I could eat an entire tub of it!”
  •    “So, what are your thoughts on (name the latest funny viral video)?”
  •    “I’m taking a survey. What is the most cliche conversation starter you’ve heard tonight?”

5. Make eye contact and smile

It might sound corny, but smiling is proven to have a positive impact on your brain and your body. For starters, neuropeptides that help fight off stress are released when you smile. And there’s more!

Dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, which are neurotransmitters, are also released just through the simple act of smiling! They can help with important things like lowering blood pressure and your heart rate, relieving pain. and they act as natural anti-depressants. To learn more about what happens to your body and how it affects those around you when you smile, read this!

If you have difficulty making eye contact when speaking to someone, this is something you should work on. Eye contact is a simple, but powerful thing that make you more likable. What’s more, when you carry on a conversation and maintain eye contact, the other person feels recognized. Like all good things, it can be overdone. No creepy laser eyes. Just sincere interest in what the other person has to say.

6. Be an active listener

OK introverts, being a good listener is yet another one of your natural strengths! Embrace it. Not only does being an effective listener make you better equipped to respond and formulate follow-up conversation topics, but it helps you build more meaningful connections and earn trust.

Ever been talking and quite aware that the other person really isn’t engaged in what you’re saying? It doesn’t make you feel validated, does it? Being an effective listener shows you value and respect the person speaking.

7. It’s OK to use the buddy system

If you have an extroverted friend willing to accompany you, take them! Many times, we’re advised to jump in and do the networking thing alone. But seriously. Our extroverted buddies can help lessen our fear, and even help be an icebreaker when needed. The same goes for anyone new that you meet while at an event. Sometimes you just meet someone who makes you feel instantly at ease. Hang on to those folks! Work the room together.

8. Follow up

You worked hard to earn those business cards! Following up is a piece of cake for introverts. Connect on LinkedIn and send a personalized email the next day. Something simple is fine, but don’t use a template.

Networking online: A dream come true for introverts

Engaging online isn’t nearly as exhausting for introverts, so this is a terrific opportunity for you to shine! It’s a wonderful complement to attending events, but does not mean you are off the hook for networking in person!

Join and connect with contacts via social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and others that might be relevant to your profession. Find online communities and professional groups that are a good fit for your line of work and get engaged!

Post relevant and insightful content, ask questions, and be sure to like and comment on posts made by those in your network. Networking online is an uncomplicated way to stand out and build up some credibility for yourself as a professional and gain exposure for your business.

Ready – set – network!

For introverts, in-person networking may never be your favorite activity. But it WILL get easier and you CAN change your perspective. Don’t look at it as a chore or something you have to do. Think of it as an opportunity. Remember to prepare in advance.

Review our networking basics and conversation starters and leverage your many strengths. An initial conversation at a professional mixer just might be the gateway to a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship!

> Heading to a networking event? Make sure you have a full stock of professional business cards.