The Introvert's Guide to Networking
Writers are often quiet and introspective by nature. I certainly am. Whether you’re an academic, a nurse or a director of business development, there’s a chance you can relate to this. Creative sparks and solutions to problems come to you in moments of solitude, accompanied by hours of research and many cups of tea.
Conferences and networking events are, more often than not, loud and intense by nature. People sharing similar interests are crammed into drafty convention centers with overpriced coffee for short periods of time, in the hopes of growing their business, their network and their prospects for professional happiness. So, what happened when 12,000 writers converged in one convention center for three long days of readings, parties and a giant expo hall during the annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference? Well, for once, writers got social. Writers networked. And for those introverts among them, this three-day weekend can mean weeks of recovery in the future.
According to Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” I’m not alone. A third to a half of the population is introverted. Contrary to popular belief, introversion is not about shyness, which is a fear of social interaction, but rather about how an individual responds to stimulation, including social stimulation.
This means that it can be mentally, emotionally, psychologically or even physically draining to be around large groups of people or people you don’t know. But our world is largely structured in favor of extroverts; those cravers of social stimulation, even down to the old adage, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” With that in mind, here are seven networking lessons I learned at AWP—tips for my fellow introverts to help you excel at professional networking events:
1. Identify one person (or type of person) you want to meet.
Tin House is one of my favorite small publishing houses, so I knew I’d make a beeline for their booth at AWP. I was certain to say hello and take interest in other imprints, too, but interacting with the editors at Tin House was one of my goals for the conference.
Let’s say you’re a bookkeeper attending a mixer that boasts attendees from various industries. You’re there because you want to find a mentor who can help you move towards your goal of becoming a certified financial planner. With this in mind, hone in on people whose name tags indicate that they’re in finance. This way you can primarily expend your energy and focus on these conversations that could move you closer to your goals.
2. Buddy system: Bring an extroverted friend along for some tag-team networking.
Based on their threshold for social stimulation, an extroverted friend may have more luck breaking into those terrifying-looking group circles when you tend to linger on the outskirts cursing yourself for being so awkward. Once your friend has broken the ice and introduced you, you’ll have your time to shine. Having an extroverted networking buddy also means a safe space to voice your worries over how a conversation went and create your plan for the next one.
3. Once you’re in a conversation, ask a question you want to answer.
This is a trick I learned from the marketing professional Manny Torres. If you want to talk about your product or service to a prospective lead at a networking event, don’t use the worn-out “what do you do?” opener. Instead, ask something compelling like, “If there was one issue you could fix in your business, what would it be?” This opens the conversation up for you to offer your business as a solution to said problem.
At AWP, I asked fellow partygoers what their favorite book was so far this year. That way, I could answer with my favorite, and then launch into a discussion of the kinds of things we like to write, too.
4. Don’t overdo it with liquor.
Alcohol is a widely accepted social lubricant, so many networking events have booze readily available. As an introvert, it can be tempting to throw back a few shots to loosen up, but you don’t want to become known as “that drunk girl” or make a misstep that will make your next networking foray more stressful! Stick to one drink, then switch to sparkling water or soda. Having the cup in your hand will give you something to fiddle with that’s not your hair or the hem of your shirt.
5. Remember to follow up.
No ifs, ands or buts about it. There’s no point in networking if you’re not going to follow up. Set a day no more than a week to two weeks after the networking event to reach out to these people, and get it done!
6. Plan an escape route.
Not all introverts are shy or have social anxiety, but there is some overlap. If you anticipate needing a moment to breathe, know your exit points and quiet places nearby. After the event, remember: You can’t pour from an empty glass, so practice self-care when you get home (whatever that means for you). Perhaps some hygge!
7. Use introversion to your advantage.
Not all networking takes place in big conferences or loud expo halls. In the 21st century, you can make connections from the comfort of your smartphone. Try networking one-on-one with a coffee date or starting an email correspondence with a dream employer. This way, you can still enjoy the professional advantages of networking with none of the exhaustion from a larger event.
I wouldn’t trade my experience at AWP for the world. I reconnected with writer friends from across the country and made new connections that should help my career. I’m even interviewing a debut novelist for my blog next week! This, the final outcome of a networking event, is what I recommend introverts focus on, especially when the excuses start revving up. (Right around the time you have to leave for the event—am I right, or am I right?)
Even though it may take you more energy, you’re putting yourself out there just as much as everyone else at the event. If you remember that you’re all taking a calculated risk, you may not see yourself as the odd one out any longer. You may see yourself as part of a whole, moving together, hopefully for the greater good. So, plan strategically. Bring a friend. Don’t use alcohol as a crutch. Have both an exit and a follow-up plan.
With these tips in mind, I hope you can overcome your anxieties and embrace networking successfully!
Jessica Hatch is a professional editor and publicist who got her start at such New York literary establishments as St. Martin’s Press and Writers House. Her words have been published on LearnVest, Fast Company, and Money.com. Jessica lives in Jacksonville, Florida, where she enjoys providing story consultation services to aspiring and established writers alike, through the use of a prescriptive, practical editing system. Say hello at www.hatch-books.com