by Stephanie Webster, EMBA London January 2021
In the world of business, networking is a critical element. Attending events with colleagues and industry professionals can already be intimidating, let alone if you happen to be an introvert. During such gatherings there is an underlying expectation to be communicative and confident in order to build rapport and generate business deals. These situations can create a tremendous amount of anxiety for an introverted person, which can sometimes lead to bypassing them altogether.
An introvert by definition, is shy, quiet, and prefers to be in an intimate setting rather than overcrowded social situations. Although we seemingly live in a highly social economy, between one-third to a half of all people are introverts yet in society we often recognise extroverts to have the advantageous characteristics that most aspire to. But Introverts can equally have as much potential if given the chance to show their capabilities.
So, if you find yourself struggling with networking, the following advice is aimed to help you get ahead of the game and navigate the social side of your career.
Before your next event, spend some time thinking about what you would like to gain out of the experience. Having a few questions prepared and revised in your head stops the potential of your mind going blank when mingling. It can be tough to relax if you’re continuously worried about what to say next and what the other person is thinking.
Although it is great to prepare, at the same time, don’t over think. If you try to plan every detail of how you want the day to go, you may find yourself overwhelmed and begin to worry. Relax and go with the flow. If you start to feel uncomfortable whilst in a large group, take a few deep breaths. It has been proven that deep breathing lowers anxiety and stress levels.
Find a buddy to attend with
It can be far less daunting if you bring a colleague or friend to your next networking event/conference. You could ask them to give you a warm introduction to others to help break the ice. It may be tempting to stick with your buddy for the duration of the event but do try to mingle separately once you have got into the swing of it. Keep in mind that most people in the room at any given networking event feel the same way you do, so you are not alone in feeling nervous.
Set small goals
Set yourself small, achievable goals. For example, a number of people to meet in a certain amount of time or aim to take home and give out a minimum of eight business cards. Try to contact all of them on your return home with a quick message to say, it was a pleasure to meet them. If we set small goals first, we are more likely to accomplish them. With every small win, you will gain momentum, become more confident and set your intentions higher each time.
Our inner dialog has a powerful affect on our confidence. If you approach a situation with a negative mindset from the get-go by telling yourself you are nervous or you know you won’t do very well, you have already set yourself up for failure. That is what anxiety essentially is, a negative preconception of how a situation will go or how others will view you.
By using positive affirmations, we are tricking our brain to believe what we are telling it. If you tell yourself that you are excited about speaking, your delivery will be much better. If you tell yourself you are confident, you will feel more confident.
Practise these affirmations in the lead up to a networking event. You can do this in your head at any time of the day or out loud in the mirror if that helps. Write down positive words about yourself and how successful you WILL be; not how successful you want to be. Keep repeating these affirmations to yourself until you begin to believe it.
Others can always tell if you are trying to be someone you are not, so if you are an introvert, own it! Find your strengths and use them to your advantage. Introverts tend to be good listeners and cultivate long lasting relationships which is a great asset to have in business. Find inspiration from extroverted acquaintances but never try to become them.
Networking is tough for anyone but with practice you can flourish no matter if you are an introvert or extrovert. The only way to learn is to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Soon you will understand what works best for you and become a dab hand at striking up conversations.