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Wednesday
Jan192011

The 4-step program for successfully networking as an introvert

by Jamie Millard and Chris Oien
follow us on Twitter: @jjmillard and @coien

Networking is important. You know that, and we know that. It’s pretty much a given. But what do you do if just the thought of networking makes you want to crawl into a hole? We’ve both been there, because we are two of the roughly 25% of people who are introverts. 

When it came time for each of us to go to our first YNPN networking event, we debated whether or not to go, and eventually skipped outleaving a sick feeling in our stomachs. We later did get involved with YNPN; and when we met each other, we realized we had both bailed on the same event. While it had been a lonely experience, neither of us was alone in it, and knowing that was a huge relief. 

So in hopes of helping fellow introverts with their networking anxieties, we’re sharing the steps we took to overcome our own. 

Step 1: Research the group and key people.

The most effective treatment to resolve your networking anxiety is a heavy dose of preparation. That begins with knowing beforehand who is likely to be at the networking event. Most networking groups or conferences will have some sort of online presence where you can begin your research. For example, if you’re going to attend a YNPN event, you could research board members on the website, members in the directory, see who RSVPs to the Facebook event, or who is talking about the event on Twitter.

A good place to start is to find people you share something with. This can be people in your industry (arts, direct service, environmental, etc.) or people who do the same kind of work (marketing, fundraising, advocacy, etc.). Also, it is helpful to identify a “super connector” that makes sense for you to fold into your network.

Step 2: Connect on social media.

After you’ve completed your research and identified the people you want to connect with, it’s a good idea to reach out to them before an event. Social media has made this easier than ever, especially with young and tech-savvy groups. The top site to turn to is Twitter: Making connections to people you should know is part of its DNA. LinkedIn is also a great resource for connecting to new people on a professional level.

If you connect with members of a networking group and let them know you’re interested in joining, it’s a good bet they’ll be glad to talk to you. Whether you keep it to talking online or ask for an in-person meeting, when it’s event time you’ll be glad to know there are people involved who will recognize you and can introduce you to others.

Step 3: Know your talking points.

 You’ve researched people, you’ve connected with them on social media, and now you’re ready to dive into conversation, but not until you’ve properly prepared talking points. Talking points can be a combination of referencing the theme of the event and asking simple questions.

Themed networking events, like speed networking or an ugly sweater party, provide more structured activities and fun icebreakers to ease the flow of conversation. These types of networking events ensure that you’ll worry much less about being on the sideline while other people talk.

Whether or not your networking event has a theme, be ready with a list of questions to ask the people you meet. Keep your questions simple (e.g. How did you get involved with this networking group?), so you don’t forget them or get tripped up. Making certain to have questions ready ahead of time reduces anxiety and avoids those uncomfortable long pauses.

Step 4: Set specific goals.

 It’s important to leave a networking event feeling like a success. To do so, come with goals you’ve set for yourself beforehand (e.g. talk to a specific person, network with at least three people, etc.). Once you reach these goals, feel free to excuse yourself. If you go right after an awkward exchange or after you’ve sat in the corner alone for a while, you’re going to feel like a failure and this will strongly deter your motivation to attend future events. If you instead leave after ticking that last goal off your list, you’ll feel accomplished and encouraged to keep coming back.


Introverts will likely always have that initial networking anxiety, but by following these steps, you can learn to master it and become just as successful as the most outgoing extrovert. 

Fellow introverts: What are your best networking tips and tricks?
And for the extroverts: What do you do to help the introverts at networking events feel comfortable?

Let us know in the comments!

READ MORE LIKE THIS: So that's how it's done? | 9 Tips for Building Your Network


Reader Comments (5)

Knowing who is going to be there is a definitely a huge comfort/relief for me. It's not that there are people who I want to avoid, it just nags in my head if I don't know. Thanks for the article, I hadn't really thought about what helps me go vs what keeps me in.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRodrigo Toste

Most people assume I'm an extrovert, but I'm not. I'm an introvert who's learned to overcome my nature in order to super-network. These are excellent recommendations on working up the nerve to show up. And as most introverts know, once you get there, it's usually fine.

And for those of us who have figured out how to do this with relative ease, I think it's our responsibility to help others come along. If someone's standing alone - invite them to join your circle. If someone looks lost, help them find what they need - even if it's just a friendly face.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVirginia Brown

Thanks Rodrigo and Virginia. I definitely agree that psyching yourself up enough to show up is the biggest battle. If I plan ahead and feel like I'm in control of the situation, then it will be fine. If not, I'm still more likely than not to skip out.

I also agree that we can be better equipped to help out our fellow introverts at networking events, since it's so easy for us to ourselves in their place. It is something I try to keep in mind, and it does feel good when you've helped someone out like that.

January 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris Oien

Another great strategy is agreeing to go with another friend that you have a solid relationship with (one who is similarly introverted if possible.) This allows you to have someone who can help you fill the awkward pauses and ease the discomfort/anxiety you may feel when initiating conversations.

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNikita Mitchell

Thanks for the additional tip Nikita! Bringing a wingman or wingwoman, can definitely help ease the initial anxiety about going to the event. When I first started networking, I wouldn't dare go to something if I didn't have a friend come along. After having a few experiences having to "babysit" the friend that I brought--which can sometimes be more awkward than just flying solo--, I decided graduate from the wingman method. I kind of like the freedom now of not having to worry about someone else.

Also, you make some great additional points in your blog about this topic. Everyone should read your post: http://nikitatmitchell.com/blog/

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

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