Manilka Ediriweera provides handy tips that will help introverts to network

Networking is essential not only for professionals and leaders but students as well. It helps build relationships through new friends and business contacts; and finds potential clients, vendors and customers. It also assists in increasing industry knowledge.

The ability to network, which requires the capacity for small talk and striking up a conversation with strangers, as well as interacting with large crowds, comes naturally to some. However, others simply dread such instances and can be classified as introverts. They find the idea of having to network or attend networking events challenging and unnerving.

Here are some tips and tricks for introverts to consider when faced with this problem. 

BE PREPARED Take the time to prepare conversation starters, icebreakers and elevator pitches. Are you nervous about not being able to find the right words to strike up a conversation when the need arises?

If so, have a few ready-made questions that you can ask people when you meet them or you could prepare an elevator pitch. Conversations can begin with questions such as ‘What are you passionate about?’ or ‘How did you get started in your industry?’

An elevator pitch is a 10 second introduction about yourself, which includes who you are and what you do. When you’re prepared in this way, you can practise beforehand and confidently strike up conversations. You will also feel more comfortable when it’s your turn to initiate them.

BE YOURSELF It’s completely acceptable if you are an introvert rather than an extrovert. What you can do is embrace your introversion when you have to network. Identify your strengths and use them to your advantage.

Introverts are generally considered as being good listeners – so maximise this listening skill. It will help you develop more genuine and long-lasting relationships, as well as allow you to gather new ideas and knowledge. Don’t try to be someone you are not – because networking is about building lasting personal connections rather than generating relationships with many.

TAKE BABY STEPS It’s not easy for introverts to interact with new people and shouldn’t set themselves unreasonable expectations. What you should do instead, is to take baby steps.

Start by trying to build one or two long-lasting and meaningful connections that will benefit you eventually – and don’t attempt to create 20 or so connections. Set small and reasonable goals such as getting to know two people, and do your best to accomplish it.

DON’T OVERTHINK You shouldn’t worry about sounding clever when you meet people because interacting with strangers is difficult and awkward for many of us. Therefore, what one shouldn’t do is to overcomplicate and overthink issues.

A smile and self-introduction can do wonders. So suppress the temptation to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind because you feel the need to fill a silence. Take a deep breath instead, and calm your nerves; then turn your introversion into an advantage. Even if you do make a social mistake, don’t fret about it.

TIME TO MOVE ON Since networking is taxing for introverts, it’s important to know one’s limits and when it is time to move on. If you are in an uncomfortable situation, don’t try to stay and strike up a conversation.

Instead, let the people you were interacting with know how interesting it was to chat with them and walk away. Remember also that you need to take a few moments for yourself in-between communicating with people.

ARRIVE EARLY Arriving early at an event helps enormously. And take a friend along if you are an introvert.

What happens when you walk in late is that other attendees would have already formed conversations and groups. But when you arrive early, the possibility of talking and interacting with others is greater before they have formed into groups. And having a friend with you at such events will make everything feel less daunting and challenging.

WORK IT OUT The 4×4 networking challenge is a good way to interact with people systematically. What you need to do is to meet up with four people you already know but would prefer to know better, and then meet with four more people that you don’t know but would like to know better.

This should be done every month. Through this process, you’ll not only be able to make new connections and relationships but also gain self-confidence.

These tips will help introverts network better. You should remember that there are many others like yourself; and you don’t have to be a social butterfly to build meaningful and long-lasting connections. Don’t overcomplicate things; instead, be relaxed and embrace your introversion.

After all, it doesn’t matter whether you are an introvert or extrovert when it comes to building connections.