How To Network: For Introverts

how to network for introvertsI have a problem. I’m an introvert. I’m not shy. I’m not afraid of being in public. But I am horrible at chit-chat and gossip. If I spend an evening at a social function with people I don’t know or don’t like, I get home and feel like I’ve spent all day at the ocean. It’s that fighting-the-waves and drained-by-the-sun kind of tired. I would rather spend four hours with my head stapled to the carpet. I would be more comfortable that way.

In engineering school, I was fine. Engineering classes aren’t particularly interactive, and in study groups, we only spoke when needed. In business school… well that was tough. I tried to sit in the back most of the time so as not to participate. But it was a mistake not to go to all the social functions. There are probably people from my classes in high places now, and they won’t remember me and I don’t know what they do.

For better or for worse, connections make the world go round. Just this week I was reading about the importance of networks in the VC industry. It applies to all of business though. Knowing lots of people reduces your headaches by a factor of 10 when you need to get something done. Requests from strangers don’t get filled as quickly as requests from acquaintances or friends. If you don’t network, you find yourself in situations (particularly as an entrepreneur or business owner) where you need someone with a certain skill set and you don’t even know where to start looking. Then you have to advertise a position or opportunity, and weed through the applicants to find the 5% that are actually worth talking to.

Over the last 7 years I’ve made a lot of progress. Here’s what I’ve learned about networking as an introvert.

Networking is an investment, not a nuisance.
Imagine if you could always find what you needed in just 1 or 2 phone calls. If you are well networked, you probably can. By putting in the time to build your network, you save time when you need to get things done. Well networked people don’t have to waste time firing off random emails to people they don’t know, buying leads or industry lists, or hunting through hundreds of resumes for the right candidate. Pick your poison. Do you want to put in the time now, or later?

At first, you have to kiss a lot of frogs.
Sometimes you have to start by picking events at random. You spend an hour in a very uncomfortable setting, but you learn what to go to and what to skip. Eventually you find a few people or events that you like.

Don’t spend too much time on it.
If you wear yourself out, you won’t ever want to do it. Accept your limitations and just do 1 or 2 events a month. It takes a long time to build these relationships, so it’s better to stick with a few groups over the long haul than 10 groups for two months.

Do cool things.
Introverts typically don’t like to talk about themselves – we prefer to talk about ideas. Force yourself to discuss some of the things you’ve done. Don’t brag, make sure they are relevant to the conversation. Then the extroverts can talk about you and pass your achievements along. It gives you credibility in some circles. Yes, I realize you would rather be accepted for what you think and know, but the truth is that the world measures you by what you do.

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Invite people to lunch.
Or invite them to coffee or for a beer after work. If you meet a fellow introvert, he/she is unlikely to do the inviting, so you have to do it.

Go regularly to things you like.
When I was living on the Space Coast, I went to a group called Founders Forum. It was for entrepreneurs and investors. I learned a lot at the meetings, but it took about 6 months for people to start recognizing me and saying hi. It was uncomfortable, being 23 in a room of mostly middle aged people. You just have to keep showing up, month after month.

Analyze your results.
Introverts are intuitive and analytical. Use that skill. What is working? What isn’t? Where do you get the most bang for your buck?

Find the key nodes in the network.
Don’t find a marketing person, find someone who knows lots of marketing people and then invite that person to lunch. If networking wears you out, you will be better off finding the ten key people who all know lots of other people, than finding and maintaining fifty relationships. This takes a long time because it is hard to find the right person. Look for introverts that, for whatever reason, are in jobs that force them to be well connected. Extroverts that share one of your core passions are also a good match.

Don’t network just for the sake of networking.
There is a book called “Never Eat Alone”. That’s all fine and good for extroverts, but we introverts can’t network just to network. As you meet more people, focus on spending your time with the ones that are the best fit, and focus less on meeting new people.

The hardest part for me was the first few events. I sometimes feel like I don’t know what to say when I meet new people. I would be soooo much more comfortable if someone started a conversation by asking me what I thought of utilitarianism as a way to make ethical decisions, or whether Sarbanes-Oxley has encouraged companies to list on other exchanges. Ideas usually seem so much more interesting than people. But, by sticking it out, month after month, I’ve slowly learned some good things to say, and grown more comfortable meeting strangers. So trust me when I say it gets easier.

The majority gets to set the rules, and the majority of people are extroverts (70% I think). Networking is an important key to unlocking your own potential. So play by the rules of the game the best that you can, or don’t sit and complain when you have a great idea and no one to help you launch it. I hope you can learn from my experiences, so that you don’t waste as much time as I did fighting the inevitable.

Four Great Books on Networking

how to network for introverts

  • Steve

    This post hit home for me in a major way. Being an introvert and an entrepreneur is a difficult combination and I honestly hadn’t thought about what I could be doing to make it easier. Thanks for this post.

  • Thats a great post. I am myself an introvert networker and I found your article to be very interesting. I have only one more point to add which I have found to be very useful in my case.

    At all business luncheons, conferences etc. I tend to make it a point to come earlier. Given my limited networking skills, this alone had greatly increased the chances of “networking success”. Here is why:

    The front rows are generally reserved for most important people. They attract a lot of crowd and chances are I end up sitting next to 2nd tier important people or people who already know or work for these important people. They cannot ask me to get up and go sit in the back, so they end up sitting next to me. One one guy sits and start chatting, to all others I am also considered to belong to “the circle” and that exponentially increases the chances of making good contacts.

    Thus, I get to meet some very good people automatically.

  • Garrison

    Rob is right — introversion and shyness are not the same. On the Myers-Briggs tests, introversion just means you get more energy by working alone than by working with others. But it’s essential for us introverts to leave the cube sometimes and connect. Good advice.

  • It’s taken many years to “manage” my introverted nature and learn to network. One of the best ways to build a stronger network is simply to ask people how you can help them…then do it. It’s amazing how loyal people will be to a relative stranger that simply makes an effort to help.

  • Being in Business school now, and planning to put up a small business of my own soon, networking is very important and am not very good at it. I try to go early to events,like another commenter does, but am still unsuccessful. Your article is great help, thanks!

  • Thanks for sharing this Rob! I too am an introvert and stapling my head to the floor sometimes sounds like a wonderful alternative to networking. The Internet has helped me though. Now my friends call me a closet extrovert.

    Steve W.’s advice above is crucial.

    Here is a link that some might find useful: http://www.escapefromcubiclenation.com/get_a_life_blog/2006/05/how_do_you_intr.html

  • One other question along these lines: how do you network in a roomful of people who are politically different from you, and who assume that all “correct-thinking” people share their politics? My strategy: button my lip and force chuckles at bad political jokes, but this is extremely unsatisfying and makes networking events even harder.

    This is a particularly troublesome issue here in Silicon Valley…

  • I bet you might find some good tips here in what Bob Burg has to say:

    http://westallen.typepad.com/idealawg/2006/12/networking_its_.html

  • Bob

    As an introvert myself I have to give praise to that wonderful social lubricant, alcohol. Of course this is a horrible idea for some people and many caveats apply, but drinking socially has helped me act more extroverted, which in turn has built a self-confidence that applies to both drinking and non-drinking events.

  • Martina

    This is amazing! I too belong to the minority who prefers being stapled to the floor to functions with lots of strange people. And indeed, I’m not shy, or inhibited, or easily embarassed. Quite the contrary. So perhaps extrovert vs. introvert is a lot of baloney and we should differentiate people people and idea people?
    Unfortunately that doesn’t help with networking either…

  • heather

    this is a great list, thanks! the only thing i would’ve added is something about the power of using former work relations to network. as a hard-working introvert, most of my “network” i’ve built up over the years is made of former coworkers. that network has been invaluable, and gotten me more than one job.

    btw came here from dumb little man – http://dumblittleman.blogspot.com !

  • Networking is hardest when you don’t have a reason. Take stock of your interests. Focus your efforts on an underserved niche. Market yourself as an expert in that field using web2.0 tools like LinkedIn, Ryze, etc. Write (blog) about it. Offer to meet and speak with others (a lot of teleconferences for particular niche industries right now). Now you can network on your own terms rather than feel as if you are being “interviewed” at traditional networking events.

  • Rather than approach networking events like an interview, approach them as an expert.
    Discover an interest you would like to capitalize upon.
    Market yourself as an expert in this field using Web2.0 tools (like LinkedIn, Ryze, etc).
    Write (blog) about the subject. Write ezine articles.
    Take any option you can for teleconferences, tradeshows, etc. to become part of your niche interest.
    Attend networking events as a published and marketing expert in your field.

  • It does make me wonder if I go to social events just to network or have a good time?! I do think sometimes it’s useful to think of a social events as going out to a bar. It’s just an event. I don’t know if I would call myself an introvert nor would I call myself an extrovert but nonetheless your post was enlightening. Thank you for sharing this.

  • If you’re still still too introverted to network, don’t forget you can also go the route of being better than everyone else. That means getting all the skills no one else takes the time to get. Like becoming a better writer: http://www.digg.com/programming/How_to_Become_a_Great_Writer

  • mkdirusername

    Here’s what I do. I don’t like talking about myself but extroverts like talking about themselves. So I ask lots of questions. And I follow them up with more questions. So what initially seems like a perfunctory small talk question turns into genuine interest about the other person. That way the other does most of the talking, you do the listening, and everyone’s happier.

  • M

    This article is so on point. I am an introvert and it is very difficult for me to network although I know how important it is. Networking seems so overwhelming to me but after reading your article I plan on taking it on a month by month bases. I will, on purpose,attend at least one event a month for the sole purpose of networking. Thank you

  • One of the most successful entrepreneurs I’ve heard speak relieved me of networking angst when he admitted to being an introvert. This is a man who has written 25 books, innumerable articles, and makes the big bucks. When Alan Weiss said language controls the conversation and conversation leads to relationships and relationships lead to business I had an ahha moment. I think being authentic is behind that admission. Be true to yourself and authentic to others – the introverts will appreciate being in the same boat and the extroverts will take you under their wing.

  • Barbara

    I have two major introvert challenges when with a group of people: I absolutely can’t “never eat alone”, and I am terrible at walking up to somebody (even at a highly focused event) and start talking.

    My solution: arrange to be a speaker at events. This is readily done by consistently writing something meaningful in an industry blog. At the talk, say something interesting, about a combination of ideas and accomplishments. Be available after the talk. Now people walk up to me, chat with me, invite me out.

  • Networking = building relationships. It doesn’t mean collecting more phone numbers, meeting hundreds of people that will never remember you (and you’ll never follow up with), etc.

    An important part of networking is bringing value to the relationship – here’s a great post on this subject – when this happened to me the quality and quantity of my network grew more than before: http://www.jibberjobber.com/blog/archives/278 (the title is “Substantiate Yourself”

  • This article inspired me to write my own post on how to market to introverts. While it’s geared toward marketers, the tips are applicable to anyone who wants to communicate effectively with the introverts in their lives.

    http://www.social-marketing.com/blog/2006/12/marketing-to-introverts.html

  • Shy Introvert

    > But, by sticking it out, month after
    > month, I’ve slowly learned some good
    > things to say,

    And we thank you for not telling what those things are. Asshole.

    ;-)

  • I like the part about having your head stapled to the carpet – I can sooooo relate…

  • Ian

    As a few people have already commented, I totally recommend getting in to an event early. If the room is almost empty, psychologically you feel like you ‘own’ the space and will be much more comfortable as it starts to fill. Much better than opening the door to a noisy room full of strangers!

  • Great post Rob. I also like Mukul’s idea. I am also a very shy person. I must admit that networking skills are very important no matter which profession you belong to. One has to learn it by hook or by crook!!!

  • Nice article and a good start for us introverts. I would like to add two things I do:

    1. Talk to people personally. If you cannot reach them: then phone, then ICQ, then sms, then email, then snail mail.

    2. Make two or three of one: combine a task with pleasure! If you have to meet someone – why not during walking/jogging/tennis. If you have to talk to a woman, why not have fun also? You get the idea.

    Bodo

  • Joseph

    I’m a little bit different from this. I always end up finding myself unable to think of things to say. I actually love hanging out withlarge groups and talking to people,I just cant sometimes.

    It’s not a confidence or nervousness issue either. I think it’s more like “writers block of the mouth”

    how do I fix that?

  • Great post! I just bookmarked it :O)

  • I agree that you need to do something cool. Many people use metal business cards, or business cards that are a different size. I always think that is cool.

  • It’s funny – most of the “educational” industry conferences are really only worth the price tag when I use them to network above all else. You’re absolutely right.

  • Extremely important subject. Thanks for sharing the book reference Never Eat Alone.

  • Very valuable advice for a product design student just branching out into the big, bad wide world. I’m going to use it and blog my progress over the months. Thanks.

  • Amruthraj Belaldavar

    Myself being an introvert and worried about lack of my networking skills, these tips will be of great help!

  • Great article! While I’m admittedly not an introvert, networking is something I continue to work on.

    I’d like to add a suggestion: get out of your comfort zone by going to someplace new at least once every couple of weeks. You’ll see and meet people that you’d never cross paths with otherwise.

    Also, there are sites like LinkedIn that can help, too.

  • I am pretty shy myself and I am just trying to figure out how I am going to be able to successfully network. I am worried that I might pass up amazing opportunities that might otherwise be more easy for me to obtain if I wasn’t so shy.

  • fee

    The thought of being an introvert entrepreneur in an extrovert world, can be daunting at times, to say the least. Sometimes, the thought of networking causes a noticeable cringe when compared to sitting home and.. well.. blogging :0) BusinessPundit.co……

  • Small Business Funding

    Like many introverts I was pressured by others to socialize more. But I largely resisted this pressure, partly because I enjoyed being an introvert. I often viewed extroverts as lacking in intelligence and depth, and I can’t say I wanted to count myself among them. However, over a long period of time, I eventually found myself becoming more and more extroverted. I embraced spending time with other people, went out of my way to meet new people, could comfortably introduce myself to strangers, and actually enjoyed it. I feel I’ve done a good job balancing the introvert and extrovert parts of myself, such that I enjoy both types of activities equally. In order to become an extrovert, I think that these rules can really help to be more extroverted.

  • Jay

    Hey thats a great article ….it has boosted a lot of confidence in me …thanks a ton dear ….i will definately apply those ideas in real life .

  • wow excellent article ! Thanks alot

  • Cara

    This is a great post, especially for an introvert/musician. I’m definitely going to have to start talking to strangers more. ugh…

  • Here’s what I do. I don’t like talking about myself but extroverts like talking about themselves.

  • Thanks for the great article!

  • It’s funny, on the same day that I have lunch with Rob May from BusinessPundit.com, he writes a blog entry titled, “How to Network: For Introverts.” I consider myself an introvert, so many of Rob’s tips apply directly to me. He su…

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  • very interesting post – thanks for that !

  • well,because introverts cannot network they cannot succeed. I always taught that networking is not a big deal but now i have realized how important it is to network.it does not matter you network for social or entrepreneur life, networking is always important.

  • osgn

  • Fantastic article. Cheers

  • Jay

    Brilliant article. Nice work

  • Jay

    Great Article. A+++

  • Great article. As a true extrovert, it is a wonderful look at how the other 1/2 the world views something i just love to do.

    Have actually written a book on the subject, Confessions of a Networking Junkie.

    To order a copy of learn more, go to http://www.roundpeg.biz/networking.htm

  • Very inspiring. I always feel I never know anyone when I need some help. I am still like that but thinking I should try to change that now.

  • This is a great entry! I am also an introvert, but have learned over the years ways to overcome my shy and introverted tendencies and have become an expert networker. One of the coolest things I stumbled upon was “The Fine Art of Small Talk” by Debra Fine. She is an introverted engineer, and she does a really great job of demystifying the art of making chit-chat with total strangers in a fun, interesting way. Definitely worth purchasing out the CDs on Amazon.

  • Thanks for this interesting post.

    I’m an introvert. I’m not shy. I’m not afraid of being in public. Actually then, like myself, your probably an ambivert.

  • qykaylee

    it must be usfull for me if i do as above.

  • Great Post. This has given me some great food for thought. Thank you for your words.

  • Hi all, great to see this discussion continue – we recognize it’s normal to be introverted. And we have an unusual advantage in this day with technology being such a compliment to the introverted personality.
    I’d like to introduce mine as well: Introverted By Design at http://www.introvertbydesign.com

    Lots of great information there to enjoy, a bit of humor too!

    Cynthia

  • These are valuable ideas for introverts. As a business coach with a focus to help introverts and shy (I know shy is different) I’d love to share my articles, close to 100 now, with any introvert who sellsL http://www.patricia-weber.com

    Love your work.

    Patricia Weber

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    this is ver diffucult hard dat of

  • Marian

    Great post, I’m going to an event this Thursday and I’m going to try some of your ideas. Thanks for the post.

  • akunna victore

    Waoooooooo this is so great! Infact, I went in search of an article that will help me in this direction. This is so apt and right on target for me as a n introvert (Phlegmatic/Melancholy). Thanks a lot.

  • Ife

    It’s a wonderful post as it applies so much to me.
    Thanks.

  • Thanks for the post.

  • ASHISH

    i am at a fairly high operations position but find it tough to set a tone for the group interaction. most times i am content to sip my drink in a corner.your thoughts help. thanks

  • OK, I admit it, I’m an introvert. Oh well.

    Good advice, probably difficult to act on, but I’ll try.

    Here’s my main problem: I simply cannot talk loud enough for very long in the large, crowded, noisy events, and then being able to hear what the other person is saying w/o being right on top of them! How to deal with that? Any advice? I watch all the people around me seemingly have these amazing, animated, fun conversations, is it all just fake?

  • Networking is extremely important to succeed.

  • Jeff

    Thanks for the helfull information. I am a small bussiness owner and struggle with the exact same issues you are talking about. I have an excellent product that sells itself, but being an introvert driving the sales is challenging. Thanks for your insight

  • Nora

    Hey guys! I’m an introvert but I have learned how to work around it. Here is a video I made on the four important things to know for successful networking for anyone, introverted or extroverted. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jauPIM3bVLw

  • Anyone want to buy a carpet stapler? ;)

    Great article! This sums me up too. It’s only when I need to draw on the expertise of other people that I think, “Doh, I really need to network!” But I’m uncomfortable with it. Thanks for prodding me to make an effort.

  • Anon

    I am the same as you. I like exchanging ideas when talking to people, and hate bragging. I am terrible at making small talk. To be honest, I don’t really care about the lives of people I don’t know, so their talk is boring to me.

    And like you, I’m not shy much, and I’m more comfortable with public speaking than many of my extrovert friends, probably because I don’t care about what other people think of me as much as they do.

    Anyway, these tips are helpful. I am a college undergrad now, with a very limited network.

  • xman.

    thank you Rob May for the advice, and to all the readers and contributors, I have read all comments and taken notes. I am just starting out in my career in sales and I shall use this page for referall purposes hence forth.

  • scalymanfish

    Great article, really offers some god insights.

    any advice on maintaining long-term professional contacts without sounding awkward or being overbearing? With alot of effort I feel that I’ve trained myself to socialize as if I were an extrovert, but it never comes naturally, its always a substantially draining effort. What inevitably happens is that I make great contacts through jobs, internships, etc, but do a bad job of keeping up, especially when it comes to people who live outside my current city or school. I suppose the secret is just to send an email/facebook every once in a while, but I always feel like I come across as awkward.

  • I rarely drop remarks, however i did some searching and wound up here Maison Atlanta Blog » Tmas two nights before Christmas. And I actually do have a couple of questions for you if you usually do not mind. Is it just me or does it look like a few of the remarks come across like coming from brain dead visitors? And, if you are writing at other sites, I’d like to keep up with anything fresh you have to post. Would you list of every one of all your community sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

  • Great article, really offers some god insights.