Full disclosure: I hate the term “networking.” And most of the time, I hate the practice of networking. Interacting with large groups of people — especially people I don’t know — gives me serious social anxiety. My husband teases me for being a recluse because I never want to go anywhere with crowds or too many people.
As an introvert, I don’t find being around large crowds of people energizing. Instead, I find being around a lot of people for an extended amount of time incredibly draining. If I have to be in large groups and put on my “extroverted face,” I need lots of time (I’m talking days) to rest and recover.
If I’m being 100% honest, the thought of standing in a room, making small talk with
strangers at a networking event is literally my personal version of hell.
But even though I don’t feel super comfortable in large crowds, I’m definitely not a loner. I’m a person who needs a sense of connection and community, and that’s been especially important in my journey as a blogger.
Because the truth is that as uncomfortable as it might sometimes feel, there’s just something really powerful that happens when we get in a room with a group of people who are all on the same path as we are. People who just “get it” without us having to explain ourselves. Who understand the daily struggles and frustrations — and who understand how exciting it is when we get a win.
And then the learning! There’s SO much that we can learn from our peers that we just can’t get when we’re riding solo. Other bloggers can give us different insights and perspectives we would have never thought of ourselves — insights and perspectives that can make our blogs (and ourselves!) even better and more successful.
So it’s kind of a pickle. On one hand, for us introverts, the thought of schmoozing and networking is just the worst. But on the other hand, there’s so much to be gained from building genuine relationships with other bloggers in our community.
Well, I’ve got good news, introverts: it is possible to network and build a community without giving ourselves a social anxiety-induced breakdown. All we need is the right approach!
Let’s take a look at the some concrete steps we introverts can take to get more comfortable with the networking process, put ourselves out there more — and build real, authentic connections as a result:
The first step to getting over the hump and becoming more comfortable with networking is to just show up. There’s no way around it — if we want to build authentic, in-person connections, we have to actually show up… in person.
If this sounds scary and overwhelming, believe me, I totally get it! For me, the “showing up” part was the hardest step in the process.
The first time I went to a blogging conference, I was so new! I had just started blogging, and I felt WAY out of my league. I didn’t own a laptop, I had no idea how to use Twitter, and I wasn’t making any money. My impostor syndrome was out in full force, and there was a huge part of me that didn’t believe I belonged there. I had two small children at home, my husband thought the idea was silly… In my mind, there was a million and one reasons not to show up.
But I showed up. Even though I felt out of my league, even though I had no idea what I was doing, even though I was terrified to the point of wanting to throw up, I showed up. I did it scared, and once I got past that first hurdle, the other hurdles — like actually talking to people at the conference — didn’t feel so scary.
Know That You’re Not the Only One Feeling Nervous
The next step to getting more comfortable with the whole networking thing? Knowing that we’re not the only ones feeling like a sweaty, jittery pile of nerves.
No matter how insecure we feel at a networking event, the truth is, half the room is feeling the exact same way. This is even more true in the blogging world — so many bloggers are introverts by nature, and no matter how confident or self-assured they may seem, a lot of them are feeling just like us — totally terrified and insecure.
Just knowing that we’re not alone is super helpful. It can be easy to get caught up in the idea that there’s something wrong with us because networking doesn’t come naturally to us, but the truth is, it makes most bloggers just as nervous as it makes us!
So next time we get caught up in the “I’m so bad at networking, there must be something wrong with me” train of thoughts, let’s reframe it and think, “I might be scared right now, but so is everyone else. I’m not alone.” Just that little reminder can be all we need to give our confidence a boost and go make a connection.
Always Look for Ways to Help Other People
We might feel completely scared to network, but no matter how terrified we are, there’s always someone in the room who’s having an even harder time. And one of the best ways to get over our fear of networking is to help someone who’s even more afraid than we are.
When we stop looking at how scared and alone we feel and instead look for ways to bless other people in the room, suddenly networking takes on an entirely different vibe. Instead of a reason to be afraid, it becomes an opportunity to be of service.
Next time you’re at a networking event, look for a person who’s standing by themselves or looks out of place and strike up a conversation. Ask questions and actively listen to what they have to say. Invite them to sit with you during dinner. If you’re not sure what to say, just ask questions — people love to talk about themselves, and it gives you an opportunity to learn something for which you otherwise might not have had the opportunity. Plus, you never know who you’ll meet — what started as you trying to help someone else could very well turn into them helping you!
When we’re actively engaged in helping others, it allows us to forget ourselves and be genuinely engaged in the moment — and, like magic, the fear of networking and talking to other people disappears.
Put Your Business Cards Away
Want to know how NOT to make genuine, authentic connections with other bloggers?
Hounding them with your business cards.
For whatever reason, people think that exchanging business cards is a great way to connect with other people. But it’s so distracting! When the first thing we do when we meet someone is shove our business card in their hand (or, on the flip side, if the first thing another blogger does when they meet us is shove a business card in our hand), it completely takes away from the opportunity to genuinely connect with that person. When we start things off with a business card, we turn the conversation into a transaction. It’s no longer about connecting and getting to know the other — it’s about making sure they know we mean business.
Put the business cards away, for goodness’ sake! If I could plaster that on a billboard, I would. Exchanging business cards is never the way to start off an interaction. If we want to build real connections, we need to start with a conversation. Get to know the other person. Find out who they are and what they’re about. Don’t worry about cards if you have a fantastic conversation, ask for their phone number or email and follow up after the conference.
Walking away from a conference or networking event with a handful of great conversations is always better than walking away with 100 business cards. Those conversations are where we find our meaningful connections. And the business cards? They’ll probably just end up in the trash.
When we’re at a conference and connecting with other people, it can be easy to get lost in the conversation and forget that other people might want to join. But it’s no fun being the person on the outside of the circle trying to elbow their way into the conversation — which is why it’s important to stay mindful of being approachable.
At a conference, we should always be conscious of keeping our groups open and inviting other people into our conversations. If you see someone standing towards the edge of your circle, invite them to come in and chat. Smile at people as they walk by and create a welcoming, inviting vibe. Remember — lots of other people at the conference are just as nervous as we are, so anything we can do to help them get more comfortable is always a good thing!
Do Your Research
My last networking tips for introverts is this: do your research. The truth is, some environments are super welcoming to introverts like us, while others… not so much.
I’ve been to my share of clique-y conferences, and let me tell you — they’re an introvert’s worst nightmare. People were so unwelcoming, and it made me feel a million times more nervous than I already was. It was terrible! That’s why I was so determined to do things differently with our conference. At ACTIVATE, there was no cliqueiness. Everyone was warm and welcoming — especially to the people who seemed a bit nervous to be there. I already knew our community was special, but I’ve never been more proud than I was at that conference!
Before you commit to a conference, do your research — and make sure you’re choosing an environment that’s friendly for introverts.
Networking as an introvert can be a challenge — but now that you know how to get over your fear and build genuine, authentic connections with other bloggers, you have everything you need to go and totally rock your next conference. And if you see me there, make sure to come and say hi!