The night before a conference where I was scheduled to speak, I found myself in a crowded ‘meet and greet’ in Sydney. The organisers had arranged a reception and I figured I should attend. Indeed, I had good conversations with four interesting people whom I’ve kept in touch with. But when I walked out the door, I was thrilled with a revelation: I’m never doing that again.
It wasn’t the fault of the conference, the venue or the attendees. It was my realisation that I’ve always hated socializing in noisy environments where you have to scream to be heard. As one who is a bit on the ‘quiet side’ I found it a bit overwhelming. I’m not at my best when connecting in those environments. In fact, many people find networking in general to be stressful or distasteful. I’ve come to realise that networking is downright enjoyable when you match it to your strengths and interests, rather than forcing yourself to attend what the business world presents as archetypal “networking events.” Here’s how I’ve embraced networking in my own way:
Create your own events.
If you’re game for any kind of networking, you don’t have to think too hard about which types of events to attend. As long as it’s the right crowd, you can make the connections you need. But if you prefer minimally stimulating environments, as many introverts do, others’ choices — from boozy harbour cruises to swanky after parties — may not be right for you. Instead, I’m increasingly trying to control my networking environment by creating my own events. Understand when you’re at your best
My rhythms are fairly normal, but I’m definitely not a morning person as I get older. Early in my career, I dutifully signed up to attend 500-person networking breakfasts, because “that’s what you do” as a businessperson. I realised the shock of waking up at 6 a.m. to get to the CBD in time made my entire day less productive. So I swore off them. For introverts, networking requires a little more cognitive effort: it’s fun, but you have to psych yourself up to be “on.” I don’t need to have the additional burden of doing it when I’m tired. I now stack the deck in my favour by refusing any meetings before 8 am or after 9 pm.
Rate the likelihood of connecting
Every networking event should be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis: if you weren’t here, what could you be doing instead? Running the numbers is particularly important for introverts. Even if the alternative isn’t something overtly productive like writing a new business proposal, the cost side of the equation can be steep. You may be exhausting yourself emotionally for hours or days afterward. Ask yourself who’s likely to attend and whether they’re your target audience (potential clients, interesting colleagues, etc.). Then follow up by asking how likely it is that you’ll actually get to connect with them. Large, loud events hinder your chances. If it’s an intimate dinner, I’ll almost always say yes; if it’s a raucous roof deck gathering, I’ll probably sneak out the back.
Calibrate your schedule
Athletes understand they need time for muscle recovery, so they follow up intense training days with time off. Introverts should do the same. As I write this, I’m in the midst of a “writing day,” where my plan is to write three blog posts. My only “meeting” today is a teleconference with my digital marketing gurus. Last Friday, on the other hand, I had three in-person meetings and two conference calls. Batching my activities allows me to focus. Alternating between social and quiet time enables me to be at my best when I do interact with people.
Even if a networking opportunity appears interesting, I’m likely to decline if it’s on the heels of several busy days. I’ve come to understand I won’t be able to tap its full potential because I’ll feel emotionally drained. On the other hand, I’m more likely to say yes to an event if the timing works and I know I’ll be fresh and open to engaging with new people.
Finding the type of gatherings that work for you will make your networking much more successful and enjoyable. There’s a reason so many events take place in noisy bars: some people love that. For us introverts, we need to start saying no to torturing ourselves in the belief that it’ll ultimately be good for us. Instead, we have to reclaim networking and do it our own way.
Finally, ask yourself – what is the point of networking if you do not have clearly defined goals in mind? Networking is only a means to an end!