As an introvert, there are few things more nerve-wracking than attending an event without knowing anyone, chatting to a stranger or making a cold call - in a word: networking. Cringe. But whether you're an entrepreneur, a freelancer or in a corporate role, building connections is the key to scoring that funding, new client or promotion. Alyssa Jaffer speaks to four successful, introverted women to learn their tips and tricks to networking...
If the idea of networking is enough to send you packing, you should reconsider - it could impact your career success. Research from Northwestern University indicates that women with strong networks and a "female-dominated inner circle have an expected job placement level that is 2.5 greater than women with low [network] centrality and a male-dominated inner circle."
The limitations of lockdowns have seemingly made networking more challenging. With the shift to virtual events and scheduled meetings, the opportunity of organic conversation over a shared interest has suddenly gone. If you're naturally shy, you may be tempted to pooh-pooh networking till 2022 - but don't be put off altogether.
Here's all you need to network effectively as an introvert.
What's the value of networking?
From freelance to full-time, corporate to creative, networking can have a positive impact professionally across industries and levels.
Aden Eyob, author and CEO of mindset consultancy Mind Medication said: "Networking is simply an opportunity to expand your connections. Your network is your net worth, because the people you choose to surround yourself with will affect your earning potential."
Freelance journalist and author Abigail Edge said: "Networking is one of the most important things professional women can do for their careers. Meeting new people can offer great networks of support, development, mentors, collaborations, career opportunities and even friendship."
Jess Bradley, human resources advisor at Kaplan International in London, said: "Networking has helped spur my career, from knowledge-sharing to hearing about new opportunities. I've made connections through networking that will last a lifetime."
"You have to do something you haven't done to get what you don't have. That's the truth of it," said Shaneika Johnson-Simms, filmmaker and co-founder of production company Asare Simms.
Conversely, shying away from networking can be costly. "The person to help you succeed could be in the room, but you might miss them because you chose to stay silent," said Aden.
Abigail said: "Especially in an industry like media where success tends to depend on who you know, having those connections can really open doors."
With networking a necessary skill to flex, even for the most reserved, these women shared their tips to push past the discomfort and reap the rewards.
If you identify as an introvert, don't let it define you
Jess said: "The thought of [networking] makes me shudder. I've been known to hide in the toilet at networking events to avoid having to socialise.
"HR is all about interacting with people and if I'm quiet or reluctant, I'm not going to get anywhere. It's about getting yourself out there and making those brilliant connections," she said.
Aden said: "I enjoy spending time alone to recharge. However, I learned the art of switching my introversion with extraversion, especially in spaces where my silence could be mistaken for weakness."
There are also layers to introversion. Shaneika said: "In a room full of people I don't know, I am an introvert. However, I can talk on stage or Zoom to hundreds of people and be absolutely fine."
Abigail said: "I can be very sociable. I can lead a team, give a presentation to fifty people, or host a conference but I need time alone afterwards to regroup. If I don't, I wind up feeling burned out."
So it's important to challenge your comfort zone but also fill up your cup.
Flip the script
"Replace 'networking' with a term that feels comfortable to you," said Aden. "Networking is merely socialising with grown-ups, so make it your own. When the language shifts, so do your thinking, emotions and behaviours."
"'Networking' comes with a certain connotation but 'meeting new people' sounds more fun. Reframing the way you think about it will make it feel much less intimidating," said Abigail.
Explore your 'why'
Shaneika recommends the 'why exercise' to define your motive: "Write down your main objective. It might be 'grow my business' or 'gain more followers online.' Then write down why. Once you have the answer, ask yourself why again. This will help you find the real motivation behind your goal, give you a purpose and help you see conversations with people as an opportunity to truly connect, not just to seek help."
Abigail said: "If you really dislike networking, figure out why. Do you dislike talking to strangers? Would you rather be doing something else? Then think about why you feel that way. Do you hate being out of your comfort zone, or feel you won't benefit from this particular event? Once you figure that out, you can find the kind of networking you're more likely to enjoy."
Explore the silver lining of online events
"Networking has turned virtual, which at first, made me feel even more uncomfortable. You have to learn to adapt - I embrace the awkwardness of breakout room silences now," said Jess.
"The pandemic has made networking easier for many freelancers because so many events are now online. You don't have to be in London, it's easier to juggle with childcare and it's more accessible for freelancers with disabilities or chronic illness," said Abigail.
"Surprisingly, [lockdown] has made networking more comfortable as I don't have to travel. Being an introvert, I have the luxury of meeting new people while still in my physical space of comfort," said Aden.
"Invest time and resources into your online presence. You'll need people to see your work, what you're about and what you're doing next. The aim is to have people feel like they've met you before they even send an email or hop on a video call with you," said Shaneika.
"Never say no to a networking opportunity. Grit your teeth and have meaningful conversations with two or three people. You don't have to work the whole room," said Jess.
Network in a way that's true to you
Aden advises: "Be authentic. Show up as you, not what the world has told you to be. Being an introvert is a blessing as you can observe the room, but don't forget to speak up."
Shaneika said: "Find your way of doing it. We have to lean into networking by building our own communities, supporting others and realising that we can all make it to the top together. Energy flows where attention goes, so focus on the positives and you'll embrace the process."