GUEST POST: Networking for Introverts | San Diego Business Branding
RANDI CANTRELL, an advertising copywriter, writes about her experience at a recent creative networking event we both attended over the summer.
I’m just going to say it: there’s something about networking that makes my palms sweat. For me, it feels a bit like being a cat; I am both curious and wary, excited and full of dread. One part of my brain thinks, “What can I possibly say? I have no idea what I’m talking about.” The other says, “Look at all the people! I’m bound to make a new friend!” The “Look at all the people!” is not quite a selling point for someone who identifies as an introvert (Oh, hi. Me!). But if you catch me in the right mood, the possibility of genuine interaction with like-minded humans can be a motivating reward. Walking into The One Club for Creativity’s Summer Networking Event was no exception, but by the end, I came to think of networking in a different light.
This event, a Q&A panel and discussion for creatives, was relatively small. This made it easier to mingle. Well, a little easier. Within a few minutes of assessing the scene and debating who to talk to, Angela and I put on our big-girl-pants, and approached a woman standing by herself. Soon after, a man politely interrupted our chit chat with her, saying, “I’m going to talk with you guys because I’m a lone wolf here.” Both were creatives who worked at advertising agencies in the LA area. The four of us chatted about a whole array of topics and though we had introduced ourselves by name, titles hadn’t really come up. Until they did.
I suppose we should’ve asked sooner, because it turns out we were actually talking to two of the event’s panelists. No big deal.
Before I could scold myself for not recognizing their names from the event description, for not saying or doing something more memorable, for not asking something more important that would uncover my golden ticket to a new prized connection, both were whisked off to join the other panelists. The Q&A was about to start.
In those moments before the panel began, I realized something important. Something I hope I’ll remember as I walk into whatever networking event I next attend, while my brain is playing that tug-of-war between fear and curiosity. Here’s the thing: having a conversation without first knowing who they were was actually a good thing, because it meant I could focus on, well, having a genuine conversation. Without being intimidated by their titles, I was better able to just listen to their perspectives and maybe, if I was feeling brave, share my own.
Some of you may disagree. You may think I should’ve had an elevator pitch ready to go and a resume or business card to hand off. Maybe. There’s a time and place for those things for sure. But what if, instead of worrying about what we can immediately get out of networking, we focused on talking to other creatives like they were real humans, and not career genies who can grant all of our creative dreams if we charm them in just the right way. Would it take the pressure away? Could we be more like ourselves? I think it could. And I think we can. So, where do we start? Keep reading below for some quick tips.
How to survive networking
when you really just want to sit in a corner and pet the Host’s cat.
1. Bring a Friend
You’ve heard the saying “Strength in numbers.” Well, it applies here, you beautiful introverted butterfly. Bring a friend to help ease the discomfort of starting up conversations with strangers. However, don’t waste your time by spending the whole night by yourselves in the corner. That’s what brunch is for.
2. Start Small
Remember, you don’t have to talk to everyone. Even just one new genuine connection will make your night a success. So, set yourself up right and make a goal before the event. Whether it’s something as small as talking to one person you don’t know or something a little more ambitious like getting three business cards, commit to something you feel comfortable with and follow through.
3. Set Up Your Exit Strategy
When I’m feeling particularly uncomfortable with or nervous about something, I find I do much better when I know when that thing will end. So, whether you brought a friend or you’re flying solo, make an agreement on how long you’d like to stay. Give yourself a honest chance and commit to a good amount of time, and be flexible with it. If the nerves fade and you’re having a blast, obviously you can feel free to stay and shut the place down. The point is: it’s totally okay to know your socializing limits and bow out when you reach your cap.
4. Remember: It Doesn’t Have to Be About You
Some people are really great at selling themselves. I don’t consider myself one of those people. While it’s true that we need to learn how to be great at being our own hype man or woman, sometimes it doesn’t have to be about that. Don’t feel like talking about yourself? Maybe you can listen for the night. Focus on the people (or even just one person) around you and find out why they’re there. Networking is just a fancy word for making connections. You don’t have to roll in with the hard sell. Just have a conversation.