My name is Dawn Baird, and I’m an introvert.  I would even say, an extreme introvert.  Where did this first manifest itself?  School – that place of daily torture for those who aren’t sporty, arty, academic, amusing or loud.  What unthinking labels did people condemn me with? Shy.  Stand-offish.  Quiet.

It took well into my twenties to stop punishing myself with their words.  It wasn’t until I met The Sensei that I began to realise that being introverted is OK.  It’s not a disease. Neither is extraversion.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, introversion and extraversion need defined.

An introvert is someone…

…whose energy comes from within and who is satisfied with their own company; utter boredom is rare.  They are not necessarily quiet, though some are.  But, then they are not usually the centre of attention either.  They may strongly prefer to be alone; alternatively they may like regular company, but of their own choosing, and often limited.  But, they will normally feel exhausted after hours in the company of others, especially in large, loud groups.  They may or may not be a Highly Sensitive Person.  I am greatly emotionally affected by music, smells, places, memories, the atmosphere in a room and the emotions of others; this can be occasionally debilitating and embarrassing.  Introverts may read or listen to music frequently or enjoy creating with their hands.  They will generally demonstrate longer attention spans than average, and find it easier to get into the flow.

An extrovert is someone…

…whose energy comes from being in company with others and who is agitated or bored if left alone for long periods of time.  They are normally talkative, often viewed as overly confident and perhaps loud or even brash.  (There’s nothing wrong with that I tell myself repeatedly, so as not to judge.)  They revel in the excitement, activity and buzz of large groups; some will enjoy being the centre of attention.  They may or may not be a Highly Sensitive Person.  They will most likely be an activities person, rather than an avid reader.  Extraverts are often fans of the outdoors, especially for playing competitive or group sports.  (Introverts who love the outdoors will go for long walks either alone, or with a single companion.)  Attention spans are generally shorter; distractions are part of daily life.

So, how can an Introvert excel at networking?

Don’t do Slick; Do Friendly

Friendliness is achievable by anyone.  You don’t need to be slick.  Anyway, slick is out; personable is in.  When you’re engaged in a conversation, the other person will see smiles and nodding; they will hear “Oh?”, “Wow!” and “Tell me more.” throughout.  They will respond to your interested questions; and feel connected when you reveal little, non-threatening details about yourself.  You will feel more comfortable next time with that person, as they will with you.  Perhaps it will lead to a phonecall, and that will feel less like cold-calling than normal.

Clues?  Smile.  Look and sound interested.  Ask open questions.  Reveal a little of yourself.  Don’t try to be the corporate that you’re not.  Be yourself, only friendlier.  If you find this extremely draining, go to short networking meetings.  Breakfast meetings are probably best for you, as they tend to be short.

Do It Online

Involve yourself in conversations that are happening online via Twitter and Facebook, for example.  People will get to see a little more of you.  This is called self-disclosure.  Reveal your opinions on things related to the business world.  (Avoid offending people, when you can.)  When people get to know you, they will refer you and your product or service.  This happens, even with those who have never bought from us.  You know when someone sounds passionate and conscientious about what they’re delivering to the customer; it’s easier to refer such people, than those you’ve never had a conversation with.

When you feel ready, start a few new conversations yourself, with your own blog, or speaking engagement at an event you know will be frequented by those you wish to engage.  Toastmasters is a great way to get comfortable with public speaking, in a completely non-threatening environment. Everyone there is at some stage on the learning ladder, and reviewers are encouraged to avoid negative comments, focusing instead on the positive.

Do It Casual

Think about the more informal (and often smaller) Open Coffee, BarCamp, or TweetUps, if you’re entirely new to networking, or feel overcome at the thought of attending a large gathering,.  Open Coffee (and the like) is a movement akin to Open Source, according to our own Mark Nagurski.  It’s a networking event, organised by local business owners.  I help to run one in Magherafelt, Mid-Ulster – see this explanation for details.  There is no central organisation, just an idea that business people and entrepreneurs should get together for coffee and a chat; collaboration; sharing access to their network of business contracts; making referrals; and informal mentoring and advice.  The event is not defined in advance; attendees create it “on the fly”.  I love it!  See how to set up your own here.

BizCamp is the place to be for the ultimate, low-key, non-pressured networking experience.  Wear what you want; stay for as long as you wish; speak or not; share ideas and ask for advice.  These events are about as far away from the old networking model I experienced when I first set up shop, characterized by mediocre, bored speakers; a room full of (mainly older) people I’d never met (online or offline); and pinstripe suits.  The relaxed nature of the atmosphere, schedule, food and speakers lends itself to easy networking.  Check out BarCamp if you have technology bent – it’s pretty similar.

Do It Yourself

One on one networking meetings can be very effective.  There need be no particular agenda, except getting to know the person and their business, including who they might have worked with and for and what their future plans are.  If you’re going to ask a lot of questions, be prepared to be open and answer a few yourself.  This type of meeting better prepares you for referring that person to someone else.  And, once you begin referring people, be prepared for the welcome avalanche of reciprocal referrals that follows.

Our experience is that networking with “connectors” (people who seem to know everyone) is good for us.  We not only get to know them, but they are adept at picking out what may be interesting in our business, for someone they know.  These types tend to remember what you do, they’ll read your blog before they meet you, they will have checked out your LinkedIn profile before the meeting too.  You should always prepare before attending any type of networking, to get the best use out of your time.  BNI has famously been encouraging this type of targeted networking, called “one-on-ones”, and members rave about their effectiveness.

Do It On the Sly

Seek out opportunities at business seminars, training events, or trade shows, to engage with other attendees.  Start up a conversation in the coffee queue!  Who knows where it may lead?  This is networking on the sly.  Often, people are not there to network specifically, but it does no harm to start a few conversations, or bring along some flyers and business cards.  You’ll be remembered as “You know… Dave, the guy I met at the Email Marketing event?”.  Be helpful at such events.  Solve a problem for someone; volunteer a new supplier; suggest a new marketing approach.

Introverts need not fear.  Networking is possible, even though you may find a room full of people daunting.  Working alone, especially for the many SMEs in Northern Ireland, can be a lonely journey.  Introversion can emphasize that.  These tactics should help you to increase your circle of useful contacts, advisors and encouragers, and investigate new opportunities, in a manner that is comfortable for you.  I guarantee that this will also result in lifelong business friendships.