I'm not sure I'm a complete introvert, but I'm certainly not an extrovert. I go to all kinds of events, but I'm terrible at schmoozing. It can be tough to really put yourself out there and meet new people, but there is a path. Dale Davidson recently shared some thoughts about this on his Dale Thoughts blog. They're pretty good, so I'm just going to re-post all three.
Avoid large networking events. Go to the conferences and listen to the speakers, but don’t invest too much time and energy “working the room” and collecting business cards. You’ll end up exhausted and you likely won’t remember the people whose business cards you now posess. Any “celebrities” you wanted to meet will already be surrounded by people (probably extroverts) and you’ll find it tough to get a word in. Instead, I recommend cold e-mailing people individually and asking them to coffee. As an introvert, you’ll do much better with a one on one conversation in a less distracting environment. If you still want to go schmoozing at big networking events, find other introverts. They’re usually the people standing by themselves with a drink in hand scanning the room. Talk to 1-2 people, ask them if they’d like to get coffee another time, and then leave. Your fellow introverts will also be good contacts for you to have.
I like the little caveat at the end for the big networking events that you do choose to go to. Schmoozing on the outskirts will indeed get you in touch with other people, but also gives you a chance to practice your schmoozing in a, perhaps, less rejection prone sphere. The more you do something, even the squirm inducing stuff you're not comfortable with, will make you better at it.
Join clubs and interest groups that have a small number of members. If you join a club with a large number of members, make sure that the club allows you to break into smaller groups of 2 – 5. This is a much better way of developing relationships with people than schmoozing. You have an established common interest and will have repeated interactions with the club members. I personally enjoy running groups. I usually end up running with the same 2-3 people every time. Plus, it forces me to exercise.
Right on. The common interest is a key that will have you enthusiastically connecting effortlessly.
Build your network one person at a time. The shotgun approach is terrible and stressful for introverts. After a networking event I’ll come home with a bunch of business cards and contact only 1-2 of them because I get overwhelmed with the thought of meeting all of them. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Choose one person to meet with a few times and then meet with another person a few times. It’s possible that the initial person you talk to will introduce you to the next person.
So there you are, introverts. A path to widen your circle. At that next networking event, be sure to find me and say hello. I'll be in the wide elliptical orbit on the outskirts of the room. See you there.