Networking for introverts is like listening thoughtfully for extroverts. It can be torture with a touch of agony.
Sometimes, however, you have to put yourself out there if you want to move your career ahead — or prevent it from going in reverse. Meeting new people is a big part of that process, even if means meeting guys named Hal from San Mateo.
You probably will never master Hal’s smooth hello or even Kathy from Atlanta’s almost sincere “I’d love to talk more about it with you.” But there are some easy-to-learn techniques that can help you survive over aggressive handshakes from sales reps and mind numbing small talk with anyone named Jennifer in marketing.
- Set realistic goals. Don’t overwhelm yourself with an ambitious agenda. For your first networking event, write down your objectives, then congratulate yourself. For your second networking event, plan to actually attend. You’re really making progress now!
- Always smile. This is not an easy if your normal facial expression resembles someone being strapped into an electric chair. It may take time to retrain your cheek muscles. In the meantime, simply insert a Popsicle stick in your mouth and bite down. You’ll look insanely happy and will be promoted in no time.
- Check your body language. Standing straight and making eye contact is good. Banging your head against a wall while saying, “I can’t do this” is not so good.
- Ask a lot of questions. It’s important to appear engaged. Your questions don’t have to be about anything relevant to the occasion. For example: How many paid Pagan holidays does your company have? Does your service have a guarantee against meteor attacks?
- Talk about yourself. Let people get to know you. How long have you worked for your company without a promotion? Are they planning to offshore your job? Why is your name tag written in Esperanto?
- Talk to someone who is alone. Chances are he or she will welcome anyone who will listen to their endless diatribe about negative market trends in Peoria. At the very least, you can practice pretending you’re paying attention. And if it’s another introvert you can both recharge by staring at each other’s shoes in awkward silence.
- Follow up. Call one person you met at the networking event within a week. If the conversation becomes uncomfortable, claim to be your identical twin sister who has some jealously issues. Apologize and promise to get some help.