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Networking tips for people who hate to network

Introverts may not be natural networkers, but with a little bit of preparation, they can master this critical business skill better than just about anyone

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Networking may be key to furthering your career and broadening your contacts—but what to do if you’re a natural-born introvert and hate to chit-chat? According to Susan Cain, author of the best-selling book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, between one third and one half of Americans (and, likely, Canadians) are introverts. And while networking may never become the introvert’s favourite pastime, with some advance planning—and a bit more control over the environment—introverts can learn to survive, even thrive, in the schmooziest of schmoozefests.

Here are five things every introvert needs to know.

1. Start with your “warm” connections

Introverts work best at—and, in fact, have mastered—the fine art of relationship-building. Your current contacts, then, are a good place to start when beginning to network. As executive coach Anne Marie Segal says in Forbes, “the common ground will allow you to build a professional relationship more quickly. In addition, if you grow a network through current connections, your target networking audience will be hand-chosen rather than arbitrary leads, so they are likely to be better matches in any case.”

2. Get to networking events early

Nothing stresses an introvert out more than having to join an already-rollicking conversation. As the self-proclaimed introverted PR professional Fiona Armstrong told The Guardian, “Introversion has nothing to do with shyness or general awkwardness; it is an inbuilt aversion to high stimulation environments.” So, reduce the stimulation and go before the throngs arrive. Better yet, says Armstrong, try to connect with other delegates online beforehand. “If you can connect in advance, it won’t be a cold start.”

3. Focus on the one-on-one

One of the great skills of introverts is their ability as listeners. This makes them powerful conversationalists in one-on-one situations—but a bit lost at sea in group conversations. Try to find situations where you can speak one-on-one at networking events—or get the contact information of the person you’re speaking with to set up a one-on-one at a later date.

4. Be prepared

Preparation is key to just about everything in life—but particularly important for those things we find stressful. Reduce the stress of networking by having a standard opener at the ready (nothing beats the classic, “So what brings you here?”)—and a few pithy words on who you are and what you do. The less searching for words, the more comfortable you’ll feel—and the more comfortable your fellow conversationalist will feel. Also, come up with an agenda: who you want to talk to, what you want to get out of the event. Structure is the surest way of creating confidence.

5. Play to your strengths

Acclaimed speaker Dorie Clark, herself an introvert, details in Harvard Business Review how she managed to turn networking into something “downright enjoyable” by taking control of the experience. Some of the things she recommends (that have worked for her, anyway): creating your own networking events (gathering the people you want, and in the places you want); calibrating your schedule (making sure you have the requisite downtime before and after networking to recharge your batteries); and choosing events that suit your “circadian rhythm” (if you’re a morning person, do morning events; if you’re an evening person, do evening events).