Do you consider yourself an introvert?  Do you get anxious thinking about how to meet new colleagues? Are you looking for better ways to network without becoming overwhelmed?  

I personally consider myself an introvert, and I have to remind myself that networking is essential to one’s professional career.  Networking is how ideas are spread, collaborative teams are formed, and lifelong relationships are started.  I’m reminded of a quote by Shirley MacLaine (American actress): “The more I traveled, the more I realized that fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.”

Given the importance of networking and lack of practical tips, one of my extraverted colleagues and I developed a presentation on this topic.  We consistently find the audience interested in our tips for introverts (and the extraverts who interact with them!), so I’d like to share some of them with you…

Whenever meeting a new person, always make sure you say: (a) your name, (b) where you’re from, and (c) what you do [in less than 15 seconds].  Let the other person do the same, and if the first 30 seconds are going well, I suggest the following ideas & considerations for introverts:

  • Start with small talk because you have at least 1 common topic with anyone around you (i.e., your colocation indicates you have at least 1 mutual interest).  At a national meeting, consider asking something like, “What’s been your favorite part so far?”  If you’re at a breakout session or even a local seminar, try “Can I ask what interested you in this talk?”
  • Convince yourself it’s OK to exit a conversation.  This can be especially challenging when an introvert meets a very talkative extravert because most introverts believe they are being rude by interrupting someone else.  Here’s a secret: extremely extraverted persons are not offended when you move on!  Practice phrases like, “It was great chatting with you, and I hope we keep in touch.  I’d like to keep meeting a few people to maximize my time at the meeting.”  That extraverted person can easily find someone else with whom to network, and the introverted person gets the break she/he needs.
  • Create a balance between: (a) time with others and (b) time with self.  For example, when you attend a national meeting, go to the social events, but save up a few bucks and plan to spend one night in your hotel room and order room service.  And if you need a very quick break in the middle of an event, you could always try faking a phone call and stepping away!
  • If you’re with a trusted colleague, consider the “buddy system.”  Not only can you divide-and-conquer to increase potential contacts, but you can pre-arrange a rescue signal in case you need a little help.

For a greater understanding of introverts, check out Susan Cain’s TEDTalk “The power of introverts” or her related book Quiet.

What ideas have others found successful?  

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Great tips, Alvin! I like the concrete suggestions for how to start small talk at meetings. That’s always a bugbear for me.

Glad you enjoyed them! Some other “small talk” starters that I like are “Is this your first time at [meeting]?” and “What other workshops/tracks are you attending?” And if I’m feeling adventurous, I might try, “What sort of research do you do?”

Great advice, Dr. Jeffery! I needed this.

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