The Introvert’s Guide to Networking: How to Start a Conversation (and What to Say)

Networking is an important part of business. It’s pretty much essential if you’re an entrepreneur.

So what do you do if it doesn’t come naturally to you? Or what if it downright terrifies you?

Well here’s the thing, dear introvert - maybe you’re just looking at it the wrong way.

In this TGIM short, you'll...

  • Learn why the skills you gain by being an introvert can be a massive help for networking
  • Discover the visible secret to knowing if someone is open to chatting with you
  • Find out how to make yourself more approachable and make it easier for others to include you

Check out the full short below:

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"I'll admit it. Just the word networking makes me nervous. The schmoozing, the small talk, the awkward exchange of business cards. At a conference I will either cling to people that I already know-"

"Please don't leave me alone. Please don't leave me alone. Please don't leave me alone."

"Or I'll stand awkwardly off to the side staring at my phone."

"Aww. Twitter."

"I'm that guy. It's stupid of course. I don't want to be a wallflower, but for natural introverts like me, networking at an event or a conference can be really intimidating. Which is hard because as an entrepreneur, networking is essential. You never know who could be helpful down the road."

"I actually don't really like the word networking because for years I thought it was what most people think it is, which is walking up to the most important person in the room and going, "Hi. You look amazing. I'm amazing. Let's be amazing together." Actually for most people, me included, that's really intimidating."

"This is Marsha Shandur."

"My business is called Yes Yes Marsha. I help people be unforgettable, whether that's through storytelling or through doing networking that's actually fun."

"Marsha is warm and charming and confident, but she told me she hasn't always been great at networking. In fact she used to be terrible at it. That's why she believes anybody can get good at this stuff."
"Networking is absolutely a learnable skill. I actually think that introverts make the best networkers."

"So, there's hope. Partly out of self interest, and partly to help all the other introverted entrepreneurs who would rather hide in their hotel rooms than schmooze at the bar, I asked Marsha for some advice. She told me the first step is planning. If you're going to a conference or a trade show or a networking event, start by doing your homework."

"Use your introvert skills to research people in advance. You can often find out who's going to an event, or at the very least you can find out who's speaking at an event."

"That research can give you an idea of who you might want to connect with in person and it can it also help calm your nerves if you're worried about facing a sea of strangers."

"Speaking of strangers, when you're at an event and there's time built into the schedule for networking, it can be really hard to tell."

"Who am I supposed to talk to? Can I just walk up to those people?"

"In terms of who to approach, watch their body language. If their body language is open and inviting, if they're looking around the room, catching your eye and smiling, then that's fine. Go up and talk to them. The general trick is if they don't have to substantially change their physicality to include you, you can go up to them."

"Say it's a group of people. If they don't have to move out of the way for you to join the circle, you can go up to them. The way that you join-"

"Move out of the way for you to join the circle. You can go up to them and the way that you join a group is you go, first of all you listen then you ask questions and then you can start giving opinions but don’t be the person that just barges in and starts being like, “Here’s what I think, blah, blah, blah.”"

"If you’re not comfortable walking up to complete strangers, Marsha also told me there are ways to make yourself more approachable so you’re the one people come up to talk to."

"Smile, give them eye contact and have open body language and by that I mean don’t cross your arms in front of your chest and stare furiously at the ground. Try and maintain eye contact, the good thing about eye contact is the more you practice it, the easier it gets. If you feel like you’re not that comfortable with it, start practicing it on the person you buy your coffee from, on all these low stakes people that you’re maybe never going to see again, with the bus driver as you get on the bus. Just start practicing eye contact and you’ll get more and more comfortable with it and that will make you approachable."

"All right, I’ve met someone, I’ve introduced myself, I’m smiling, I’m not looking at my phone, I have open body language, this is great. Now what are we supposed to talk about?"
"If you are nervous about networking, questions are your total best friend for a bunch of different reasons. First of all, really great openers and all you need to ask them is something that you have in common with them which could be the event or the venue or the area. You can say, “Have you ever been to Leicester before?” Or wherever the conference is. “I’ve heard there’s a really great bar around the corner, did you hear about it?” Those are great opening questions but the other great thing about questions if you’re an introvert is if you ask questions, you don’t have to do any talking. It’s like this magic trick where you ask questions, the other person keeps talking. If you’re sharing a genuine interest in them, they feel amazing because people love talking to people who are interested in them. You get to gather intel that you can then use to either add value to them or just follow up with them in an email and you don’t have to do any talking."

"After the networking event is over or the conference is finished, you might think your work is done. According to Marsha, the best networking happens after you’ve met somebody and it’s all in the follow up."

"You need to set aside time and this does take time. You need to set aside time in the week or 2 afterwards to send people nice to meet you emails. If you’re feeling very productive, you can send them to every single person you met even if you met them for about 2 seconds. If you’re not feeling very productive, just send them to the people that you liked or that you would like to keep in contact with. All you need to do is just be like, “Hi person …” Put yourself in context, say it was nice to meet you and then leave your name, your email address and then either your website or your LinkedIn profile afterwards. Do this to people even if you don’t know if they’ll be a useful contact now because maybe in 3 years’ time, you desperately want to get in touch with them and it’s much classier to send a reply all to an email you’ve sent before than it is to say, “Hi, I don’t know if you remember me, we met about 3 years ago, you probably don’t remember me.”"

"Also, it shows that you were interested in reaching out before you wanted anything and that you’re interested specifically in them."

"The next time you find yourself awkwardly standing in a room full of strangers, make yourself approachable. Have open body language, ask lots of questions and make sure to follow up."

"That wasn’t so bad but I hope I never have to do this again."

"If the idea of networking still makes you uncomfortable then stop thinking of it as networking. Marsha believes a lot of people think they don’t like networking or they think they’re not very good at it because they have the wrong idea about what networking really is."

Marsha: "This is what networking actually is, talking to people you like about things that you’re interested in."
Speaker 1: "Who doesn’t want to do that? Marsha says once you change the way you think about networking, once it’s no longer a dirty, schmoozy, faky fake word then your entire outlook changes."

Marsha: "It means that going to a networking event, rather than walking in the room and thinking, “Who should I be networking with?” You’re thinking, “Who would I be friends with irrespective of their job?” It’s all contrary to popular opinion, not about selling yourself, it’s about adding value to people long before you ask for anything else. Then, what happens is by the time you ask for something they’re like, “This person’s really helpful, has already done a lot for me.” As humans we’re wired to reciprocate, I’ve done a lot of social studies tests on this. They’ll be like, “This person has already helped me, I need to give them something in return.” They’ll be jumping at the bit to help you as opposed to the person who came up and schmoozed them."

Show notes:

About TGIM: TGIM is a podcast for people who can’t wait for the week to start. In each episode we’ll be bringing you inspirational stories about entrepreneurs who have overcome obstacles, built incredible businesses, and are now living the life they want.