Sunday, April 9, 2023

Networking for Introverts, Highly Sensitive People, and Others

Networking: Hands reaching out in a handshake and exchaning business cards
A few months ago, I attended a networking event for female entrepreneurs in my area. It was great, but it was also exhausting!
As an entrepreneur, I run my own private tutoring and academic and career coaching business, in addition to two thriving Etsy shops. I also consider myself to be a shy, introverted, highly sensitive person.
Networking and meeting new people are all scary and feel exhausting before I even take part in them! The same is true for many introverts, shy people, and highly sensitive people.
If you find networking difficult -- even if you aren't an introvert, shy, or sensitive -- here are a few ways I've made it easier for myself: 
First, I analyze if the networking event is a good fit for me. I assess what I hope to get out of the experience, what I have to share with others, who is expected to attend, the type of event, and more. If I don't think I'll get anything out of it and that I won't be able to bring anything of value, then I likely won't go. If the event will be huge, I won't go. If it's formal, I won't go.

If you have access to the list of attendees, take some time look up several on LinkedIn, social media, or their websites. Choose a few that you would like to connect with and send them a quick message. Briefly introduce yourself, tell them you'll be at the event, and that you look forward to meeting them. This will prime them to be on the lookout for you. You'll have made connections before the event even begins! I don't know about you, but having a connection beforehand helps to break down barriers the day of the event.

After I've decided that the event is right for me and I've made some connections ahead of time, I challenge myself to talk to three people during the event. I like to ask them questions about what they do. Getting others to talk about themselves and what they do is a great way to drive a conversation without having to do much work. Some of the questions I like to ask include:
  • What problems do you solve in your work?
  • What was your best client experience?
  • What was your worst client experience? Did it change how you do business?
  • What is the most misunderstood aspect of what you do?
  • What are your goals for the next several months?
  • What is the biggest lesson you've learned in your field and how do you apply it day to day?
I like to make sure I have an out, just in case the event isn't what I had hoped, if I feel overwhelmed, or if I feel my social gas tank hitting empty. In truth, I've gotten comfortable just saying, "This has been so great, but I need to get going. I have some things to take care of at home. Should we exchange business cards?" Most of the time, this is a pretty good path to the door. 

After the event, go back through the business cards or contact information you gathered, or go back to contacts you made before the event, and touch base with a few people. Just send a quick message on LinkedIn or by email and let them know you enjoyed meeting them and hope to see them at future events. If you have reasons to get in touch in the future, let them know that they may be hearing from you again and that you look forward to working with them.  

Some aspects of networking may always be overwhelming though and it's OK to give yourself an out so that you can leave events early! It's also OK to say no and to be selective about networking opportunities. I've opted not to attend several this past month, but I have been in touch with a few people from the event a few months ago through LinkedIn and Instagram.
What have your networking experiences been like? What has gone well and what hasn't? Drop a comment and let me know!

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