The Introvert’s Guide to Networking

If you hear the word networking and immediately want to hide in a toilet stall, you’re not alone. But networking, particularly in person, is one of the most common pieces of career-building advice – and a skill you can develop.

Take the advice of Katty Clare and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Code, and build confidence by taking action. To start, here are seven networking tips to help you get from the bathroom to the boardroom – or wherever you’ve set your sights.

#1 Set reasonable goals that work for you

If networking makes you want to pull your hair out from stress, acknowledge that and set goals that are realistic for you. Sure, your friend is going to three meet-and-greets this week alone – that doesn’t mean you have to.

This solid advice comes from Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Try setting a goal to attend one event a month, Cain suggests. Aim to exchange cards with two people – or even just one.

Too stressed to even walk into the room? Try two minutes of power posing, shown to reduce stress levels.

#2 Networking is about showing up

Both online and in person, your presence makes a difference, particularly if you engage with people.

Start thinking about networking as a longer-term strategy. Don’t feel the need to get everyone’s business card the moment you step in a room.

If you can attend a regularly held event, use the first few sessions to get acquainted with the space. If you don’t speak to anyone, it’s not a waste of time – it’s reconnaissance. Use what you’ve learned to consider your next steps.

The other advantage of showing up more regularly is you become a known entity, which encourages others to engage with you. Suddenly you’re not on the sidelines in a new place – you’re in the midst of things somewhere familiar.

#3 Research, research, research

In an era when you can cyberstalk – excuse me, research – pretty much everyone, take the time to actually do it before rocking up at that next event.

Research the speakers, the organisers, the building it takes place in. At best, it means you’ll know exactly who that one person you want to exchange cards with is, and what drives them.

At worst, you’ll learn some local architectural trivia that might just win you a pub quiz.

#4 Create a concise, memorable tagline for yourself

You’re not just Jane. You’re “Jane, an aspiring curator and art critic.” Put it in your email signature, slap it on your business card, and most importantly, practice delivering it with confidence.

#5 Shake hands with confidence

Your handshake is an important part of making a good impression – but it can also be intimidating, particularly if you’re not into touching strangers. Based on the random sample of everyone that I’ve ever shaken hands with, most people need practice. So get some friends together, stand up, make eye contact, and extend your arm.

The web between your thumb and forefinger should touch the same part of the other person’s hand. Clasp firmly, to show you’re confident – but avoid the death grip. Two solid shakes from elbow will do, not too fast or slow. Smile and release! Practice until you can shake smoothly without thinking about it.

#6 Act like the person you’re meeting already likes you

Instead of assuming this new person doesn’t like you, act like they already do. And why wouldn’t they? You’re great. This will help you relax and treat their questions as a chance to connect, not as an interrogation.

And while you’re at it, act like you like them as well. As Malcolm Gladwell notes in a brilliant article on the power of connection, “there is nothing more irresistible to a human being than to be unqualifiedly liked by another.”

#7 Build relationships by getting involved 

Don’t think of it as networking, think of it as relationship building. This can be easier if you can get involved in the event. So don’t just attend the convention, for example, volunteer at the convention. Take a role that gets you talking to people in a purposeful way.

Can’t volunteer? Try building connections between the people you meet. If it’s terrifying to introduce them in person, create synergy between the people you meet in person by connecting them online.

Ashley Kalagian Blunt is a writer and stand-up comedian. She’s written for McSweeney’s, Kill Your Darlings and Griffith Review. Her current project is How To Be Australian, a memoir. She runs the comedy website Full of Donkey and tweets at @AKalagianBlunt.