In-person networking for introverts: How to work up to itFeatured

Meeting new people (especially making the first move) isn’t as dreadful as it seems in our heads. And, in any profession, meeting new people and making connections can be one of the crucial ways in which we learn, grow, and build new opportunities for ourselves.

If it weren’t for networking, I’d never get to be a part of the companies I’ve been in. I wouldn’t be able to learn from some of my favourite people in the industry. I wouldn’t have a group of trusty marketer friends who I can bounce ideas off when I feel stuck.

I’d have no one to push me and challenge me to become better, something I’m eternally grateful for.

But getting to the point where I feel comfortable with all of that didn’t feel effortless.

Being an introvert working remotely in a small town (and in the pandemic) almost guarantees isolation issues. Scratch that, even a decent extrovert would have a hard time getting back to their social shape.

If I had any handle on balancing my networking before the pandemic, I definitely lost it during. And for a moment, it felt like I was starting from scratch. Two years of isolation later, bound by newly diagnosed depression, starting up a conversation even with the people I knew felt like too much of a chore. But staying in one place wasn’t an option either.

Through trial and error, I realized that once I actually met someone, the rest of the conversation didn’t make me panic or feel uncomfortable in any other way. The only obstacle was approaching people.

So what did help?

Rationalizing with myself

For me, the biggest mental blocker was removed when I realized that those same people at the events (both virtual and in-person) are there because they also want to meet people from the industry and learn. And I myself am a person from the industry.

So yes, our goals align, we want to meet each other, and they’re likely feeling as awkward as I am.

Get it out of your head, you’re not intruding on anyone. If anything, you’re making things easier for both of you if you approach them first. You share a common goal.

Strangers on the internet do help

If I was shy before, all the social isolation didn’t help me open up. So I turned to online communities as a training ground.

There are two types of communities to look into:

  • Professional communities related to your area of expertise (such as Elpha)
  • Chat generators (yes, those random ones such as Emerald and Omegle)

How can Omegle help you with networking exactly?

Despite their reputation of hosting prankers and some, well, unsolicited content, random chat generators are still an escape ground to people like you and me looking for fresh social interaction from the comfort of their couches.

Not every random chat will be a success, naturally. However, not knowing the face nor even the name you’re being matched up with reduces the stress of “what will this person think”. That really helped me get out of my shell and start making conversation on the most random of topics. While some conversations were a one-time thing, others turned out to be too engaging to not be repeated. After a while, I got super comfortable with it, and to this day I have multiple friends I made all over the world with whom I share the randomest of interests.

Once my social battery became more reliable, it felt safe to go back to professional communities and start engaging in different discussions, helping people with customer research, asking questions of my own, etc.

While I don’t have a comprehensive list of communities across industries, as a marketer, these stood out for me when it came to moderation and the quality of engagement:

  • Email geeks
  • Product Marketing Alliance
  • Pocus
  • PLG

How to open the conversation

Once I became more open to making conversations in general and persuaded myself that people at networking events want to meet me as much as I want to meet them, I needed good openings.

(In case a non-introvert is reading this, yes, we overthinkers tend to do that: plan what exact words to say when talking to people. No, it doesn’t always work, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.)

Just approaching someone out of the blue and talking about yourself is not the smoothest of approaches. And introverts in general tend to be better listeners than speakers. The solution: focus your openers on the other person.

  • What brings you here?
  • Haven’t heard about that company before. What do you do? (this is where lanyards come in handy)
  • That’s an interesting last name, where are you from?
  • How did you like [Speaker]’s talk?
  • That’s a cool sticker/water bottle/t-shirt print. Where did you get it?

You’re not only making the first move, but you’re also giving them a conversation starter they feel comfortable talking about. You’ve acknowledged something positive about them, made a comment about that, and saved them from standing awkwardly on their own as well. They’ll very likely be happy to reciprocate and show you where the actually good coffee stand is.

Bottom line

The last few years haven’t been easy on any of us. So the least we can do is go easy on ourselves. You’re already here, a professional in your field. You deserve more people to know you and know about your work. Connections don’t only help us feel more like part of an industry, but they can also help bring new opportunities into our lap.

With small and steady steps you can work up to being more and more comfortable meeting new people and opening to new opportunities.

You’re already here, a part of Elpha. Make a conscious effort to reach out to one new person here today. That person can even be me. I would love to get to know you. :)

As an introvert who struggles with this, I really appreciate your tips! These are great practical, ideas that I can see myself using. I especially like your suggestions for conversation starters. A tip I've heard before is to think of yourself as the host and you're making other people comfortable. Those ideas for opening questions do just that. Thanks.
Great tips but respectfully, "That’s an interesting last name, where are you from?" Can be really hurtful. As a racially ambiguous person I've spent a lot of my life being asked where I'm from (or the much worse "What are you?") and they don't mean Chicago. Even when well intentioned it makes me upset every time. Most of my friends who have this experience also say it's upsetting. It's fairly unlikely for a white person to get this question. Thanks all!
Introverts tend to find small talk more exhausting, I think because we're sort of feigning interest, so I love the suggestions to get specific quickly. (though, yeah, I might stay away from commenting on their last name.)
Oh thanks @LenaT for pointing that out. Coming from Europe, it didn't cross my mind. Cause last names deeply vary here, regardless of racial ambiguity. Even mine tends to get people confused, so I often get asked to clarify how it's being read. In my case, I don't mind, but I understand how someone would. Appreciate you drawing my attention to that.