With the return of in-person conferences, board meetings, and company offsites, you might need to freshen up your networking skills. If you’ve been working from home or you're an introvert, you may have happily leaned on email and Slack, but successful networking is here to stay. In fact, Karlo Krznaric, coach and author of Business Networking for Introverts, believes that introverts might actually make better networkers than their outgoing extroverted brethren. Here, he shares tips for crushing it at the office or your next conference.
Psych yourself up
The hour before any event or party tends to be the hardest for introverts. It’s a time filled with dread for what's coming, but the reality is that once the event gets going, everything is fine. "The very first step for me is reminding myself that when I go there, I will like it, then when I come back home, I will be happy I went there," says Krznaric. "I like having a goofy ritual to get myself in the party frame of mind. We know that you perform best — networking or partying — when you're relaxed and just having fun. So I like doing something like turning on music and dancing around for a few minutes beforehand, or just watching a funny video clip."
Remember that everyone is here to network, and everyone feels awkward to some degree, says Krznaric. "Especially at networking events or conferences, people are coming to these things entirely with the goal of meeting people," he says. "I find reminding myself of that makes it easier to strike up conversations with others."
Enjoy your secret superpower
Being an introvert has its benefits, says Krznaric. You tend to be more naturally empathetic and a better listener, which is a great way to authentically make your conversational partner feel good about your interaction. "If you're trying to impress someone, it's more important that they feel good in your company, than that you had a great time, versus them hearing all about how great you are," says Krznaric. "Your power as an introvert is that you can be receptive to the other person and their needs."
Welcome the pause
Funny enough, the flip side of being great listeners is that introverts might be more prone to babbling than extroverts — which goes against the 'shy' stereotype entirely. That's because we're extremely uncomfortable with social situations, so we feel the need to 'fix' the quiet situation by chattering away, says Krznaric. "Introverts sometimes … tend to talk too much because they're afraid of the awkward silences, but recognize that it's OK for a conversation to hit a lull — and perhaps use that as a reason to excuse yourself and move on to the next conversation with someone else," he adds.
Be authentic, but appropriate
Everyone talks about authenticity when networking, and while there's truth to that, it’s important to exercise discretion here. At a party, it might be authentic and vulnerable for you to explain to someone that you're feeling shy and nervous. But at a networking event, depending on your job title, introducing yourself and claiming to have a tough time in social situations could backfire. "If you're trying to promote yourself and know that seeming confident will be more positively received, sharing your discomfort could work against you," says Krznaric. "But in many situations, simply admitting to someone that you're a bit shy can help you bond with the person you're talking to."
Have a go-to hobby or story
While admitting to intense shyness may not be ideal in some settings, you can still make a lasting impression with a fun anecdote or hobby. "You don't have to fake a whole sophisticated and professional personality to be professional," says Krznaric. "Personally, I love anime. If I'm at a networking event and I talk about anime, either I meet someone who likes anime and we have a lot to talk about, or I meet someone who doesn't know much about it, but has an interesting hobby themselves. If you manage to bring your own hobbies and passions into the conversation, you can connect to other people on a much deeper level, even if you don't share the same hobby."
Put your phone away
The big mistake many introverts make at social functions is keeping their phone in hand. "Usually, you're not even doing anything on the phone, just scrolling around to make it look like you're doing something," says Krznaric. "This is a common safety mechanism, but it's keeping you from being able to network with others, and it makes you seem unapproachable. Instead, put your phone away — leave it in the car if you can — and lean into the discomfort." You'll end up starting a conversation just to have something to do, or you'll be approached by other people because you seem more open for conversation. Feel uncomfortable with your hands empty? Grab a glass of water or coffee so you have something to fiddle with.
A tip for remembering names
Introverts and extroverts alike can be terrible with remembering names, but shy people are often worse simply because we don't hear the name the first time around because we're so stressed out at the prospect of introducing ourselves. "The easiest way to remember a name is to repeat their name right after they say it," says Krznaric. Focusing on that will also force you to hear the name in the first place. "But if you do hit the middle of the conversation and realize you've already forgotten the person's name, just ask again. To be honest, they've probably forgotten your name as well. It's better to apologize and ask for their name again, because it shows that you care enough to ask."
Extricate yourself from conversation
You might have lied in the past to get out of awkward conversations that just won't end: 'I have to get a drink,' 'I need to use the restroom,' or 'My phone is ringing.' But remember, a networking event is for networking, not just sequestering yourself with one person. That means it's completely fine to just say, 'It was nice talking to you — I'm going to go mingle now.' Once you break that barrier, Krznaric says, it's very liberating. Have you tried to escape only to find you couldn't get out of the conversation? Try sticking out your hand for a handshake or patting them on the shoulder before starting to walk away — that physical touch can help punctuate the end of a conversation and make it almost impossible for the person to continue.