9 Tips for Better Networking (Even for Introverts)

Illustration of people networking

I’ve always admired extroverts, and people who manage to network without going crazy. If you’re anything like me, then you’d much prefer to stay in bed and do your own thing–safe from the terrifying world of interaction with people whose names you don’t remember.

Unfortunately, introverts, socially anxious people, and everyone else who just doesn’t feel comfortable with networking–are all going to find themselves in a position where they have to network, even though they find it more dreadful than sitting under a cubicle desk for an entire workday.

Will you find yourself in this position?

Unless you’re legitimately, deathly allergic to other people or you haven’t seen the sunlight for two months, then yes. It’s simply a matter of time.

Most of us are going to move around at some point in our lives, whether it’s to a new company or a new city.

As people, we’re kind of obligated to talk to those around us, even when we don’t always agree with them or like them.

That means networking is a very necessary skill.

Take it from a fellow introvert–often, the scariest part of networking is thinking about it. Here are my honest and tested tips (plus advice from experts!) about how you can maximize your network and build some real relationships with people you admire.

  • Don’t be a rack-up-the-numbers networker.

You’ve probably seen her before: the gal who flits around the room, quickly asking for each person’s LinkedIN before moving on to her next victim. For this networker, quantity is much more valuable than quality–and it really should be vice versa.

Networking is often spoken of in cool, breezy language that hides its true value. If you build a good network, you’ll have friends and partners who you can count on to give you solid advice.

A close, warm network of three experienced, trustworthy people is far more valuable than having a massive, 1000-strong “network” of schmucks you don’t even remember

Not buying it? Take it from these pros:

Quantity networkers are forgettable individuals,

-says Benjamin Akande, dean of Webster University’s George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology.

If a guy is just looking for his next consulting contract, I don’t want to know him.

If the only connection you make with someone is the moment when your fingers graze theirs as you shove your sweaty business card into their palm, then they’re probably going to throw it out.

Oh, they might remember you–but not in the way you want them to. Don’t forget your manners.

  • Be friendly and positive.

Trying to talk to someone who is a constant stream of negative emotion is exhausting and frustrating. If you are that person, try to be more positive.

Talk about the wonderful things you’ve experienced lately or a recent success that your business or company is proud of.

One respondent in a networking survey said, “People will forget what you said and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

When people speak to you, how do you make them feel? Loved? Appreciated? Heard? Positive? Excited for the future?

We should strive to act as “lights” for other people, and as beacons to turn to.

Negative attitudes will drive away friends, and people will never refer someone to you if you’re always crapping on life and on them and on everything. If you have nothing nice to say, a simple nod with a smile can tide you over until you manage a graceful exit.

What do you have to offer?

Tell me–what are you the expert at? Crowdfunding AI? Finance? Growth hacking?

When you meet a person IRL, take the time to make a real connection with them, and share tips with each other, pro bono. How can you help them out without forcing them to pay for your time? People remember the genuine folks.

If you’re not much of a businessman, but you do, for example, know how to make a killer lasagna and the topic of delicious Italian foods comes up in conversation, then mention it. And share Grandma Giulia’s lasagna recipe.

  • Don’t ask them for stuff off the bat.

Leeches (the animals) are weird, smelly, slimy, and annoying. They can also be a pain in the neck, or leg, or wherever else they bite you.

Don’t be a leech. Nothing is worse than going to an event and trying to make a new friend and then realizing that this person just wants to take stuff from you. It could be your money, or they might even be trying to rope you into some weird pyramid scheme. They might even have the audacity to try and ask you for a job or a freebie.

People don’t want to do business with a card thruster,

-says Shel Horowitz, a marketing consultant in Hadley, Massachusetts.

in fact, speed networking probably does not yield the best return on your investment of time.

If the only connection you make with someone is the moment when your fingers graze theirs as you shove your sweaty business card into their palm, then they’re probably going to throw it out.

Oh, they might remember you–but not in the way you want them to. Don’t forget your manners.

People don’t like to feel used. It’s a much nicer feeling to give freely–whatever you do, avoid asking people for stuff the first time you meet them.

  • Show interest–legitimate interest–in them.

If you’re lucky, then a conversation with someone you’re trying to network will slowly turn to non-work topics, such as a sport you both love or a side project y’all are thinking about.

If you feel that the person across the table has the potential to be a lifelong buddy, then start constructing a bridge so that you can naturally take the next step forward.

How? Just ask them, “What’s a secret project you’re working on.”

That gives them an opening to start telling you about their hopes and plans for the future–if the idea sounds like a good one, you might even be able to offer them your help.

  • Be selective.

Events curated exclusively for business networking are full of people who are seeking connections. If you spend an hour on each person you meet, the chances that you’ll meet someone amazing are very low.

It’s alright to chat with someone for a few minutes, then move on if you feel like you aren’t a great fit.

Prioritize your time–it’s what we’re all about here at Toggl–and save your minutes for the people who inspire excitement in you.

The numbers networker isn’t selective at all–he just focuses on getting his business cards in the hands of as many people as possible. And being too selective can also be detrimental to your efforts.

Rather, aim for ten to twenty minutes with most of the people you meet, and extend that time if you feel that you feel a spark.

  • Make them laugh (and be authentic).

Just think about the lives of business people, or about your own. How many pitches have you heard? How many people have tried to use you?

The best way to make a lasting impression is to connect authentically with a person, and the easiest way to do that is to make them laugh–genuinely.

According to PsychologyToday, laughter releases endorphins that make people feel good about each other, themselves, and the world around them.

The Golden Rule of friendship states that if you make people feel good about themselves, they will like you–and laughter does just that. It makes you feel good about yourself, and the person who triggered your laughter.

When you think about it, it’s perfectly logical. When you meet a serious person, you’ll most likely feel defensive and guarded around them–that’s a barrier that prevents you from truly connecting to them.

And we only laugh around people we’re comfortable with. By telling a person a funny joke or story, you can increase the chances that they’ll feel warm and safe around you.

Don’t feel like you’ve got a single funny bone in your body?

Try some self-deprecating humor. Two benefits: it makes you look humble by showing that you can laugh at yourself, and it can also be pretty funny.

Note: self-deprecating humor isn’t the same as bashing and insulting yourself. Instead, tell a story about a silly mistake you made, or that time when you confused two words together.

When people see that you’re capable of admitting and acknowledging your mistakes, they see you as more “human” and less “robot”.

  • Ask questions.

Truly great networkers often use the strategy of asking lots of questions to great effect.I always get a warm and fuzzy feeling when a close friend asks, “Hey, how are you doing?”.

People rarely get the chance to speak freely about their feelings, ideas, and opinions–by asking someone questions about those very topics, you can help them feel appreciated and liked.

The nice thing about being the one asking the questions is that you don’t have to talk as much–you can just listen.

And that’s so, so relieving for an introvert. Prepare the questions beforehand to feel even more at ease–and the prep will make you feel more relaxed.

You can fill an awkward silence or nervous slip-up with a fun question that you’ve practiced beforehand, and keep the conversation going.

  • Keep in touch once the event is over (ie, follow up).

Social media and follow-up e-mails are very handy. In the follow-up, try to add more value to their lives. Even a simple “thank you” is a great opening for you to continue the conversation again.

If they mentioned that they were looking for a copywriter, you could always send them a contact card to one you regularly rely on.

If they said they were stumped for gift ideas for an upcoming birthday party, then why not send them a Pinterest board you found or a link to something one of your friends enjoyed?

If they said they’d be going to Vietnam in the next month, you could also share a Tripadvisor link with them to a restaurant that you thought was marvelous.

Connecting with a person on social media usually gives you notifications for their birthdays, and they may also use their profiles to share good news or small wins in their lives.

Genuine comments and congratulations can help maintain your connection to them, making it easier in the future when you need help or would like advice. The more you keep up with them, the easier it’ll be to schedule a real-life meeting (and to pitch them a possible service or idea).

  • Be mindful.

Unless you’re both checking out each other’s LinkedIn profile, there really isn’t a good reason to be on your phone when you’re networking.

One of the best gifts you can give to any person is your undivided time and attention.

By staying fully present in your conversation, you can catch the small details, such as their favorite food, an upcoming business trip, or a funny meme they recently thought was funny.

If someone tells you something about their personal life that you find interesting, try and jot it down after you part ways. Those small connections may seem insignificant, but they’ll be very useful when you meet them again for coffee or lunch.

I’ve had the most success with following up on the people I connect with at the events I go to.

For example, at small writer meetings I’ll often ask them for their social media, and send them a quick message about what I enjoyed during our time together.

The follow-up doesn’t have to be immediate–give them a few days to rest. Again, the same overused adage of “quality vs. quantity” applies here. You don’t have to barrage a person with messages to make a person like you. Simple, sparse, but authentic connections can often do the trick.

If there are any other networking tips that you’ve used in your own personal or business life, don’t forget to let us know! We’re always looking for more techniques to try out.

July 10, 2018