If you're an introvert, chances are you think about large networking events with some degree of dread. These gatherings don't lend themselves to the in-depth conversations that introverts prefer, and the crowds and noise are energy draining.
Still, these occasions can provide a valuable networking opportunity if you know how to take advantage of them. Here are some pointers to help you successfully navigate large networking events.
With a list of attendees in hand, you can identify people you are most interested in speaking with and deliberately seek them out.
In some cases, you may even be able to contact the person ahead of time and mention your interest in meeting them at the upcoming event. By targeting specific individuals, you can conserve your energy and get the most out of the event.
If you have difficulty approaching people and introducing yourself, the organizer or host can help make introductions.
Bonus tip: A friend or colleague can play a similar role, meeting people in the event, and then bringing you into the conversation.
Figure out ahead of time what kinds of topics you can use to connect with people initially. Think of questions you can ask others to get them talking - good listeners are very much appreciated at these events. In addition, prepare a brief introduction about yourself.
The large number of people can be exhausting for an introvert, but if you arrive early, you'll get there ahead of the crowd, before it's noisy and exhausting.
The added benefit is that it's easier to connect with people before they've clustered into the small groups that typically form once a lot of people arrive. The early arrivers aren't engaged in conversations yet and are glad to connect with whoever else is already there.
If you haven't met some of the people you had hoped to meet, or if the event is a long event, feel free to retreat for a short time to recharge your batteries. This could involve stepping outside for a few minutes, going to the rest room, or simply finding a quiet corner where you can think quietly, undisturbed.
Alternatively, you don't need to stay until the very end of the event. If you've met the people you set out to meet and your energy is starting to wane, it's okay to leave early.
Many people find it hard to initiate conversation. If you notice that other people are on the outside looking in, consider approaching them and striking up a conversation. Even a statement commiserating about how difficult it is to strike up a conversation can be a way to get the process started.
When you attend a large networking event, participate as the professional that you are, with whatever set of expertise you bring, with the goal of having introductory conversations with people about topics of mutual interest.
Remember, you're not attending specifically to find a job. You're there to meet people, make connections, and build relationships.
The fact that you are looking for a job is incidental. Think in terms of how your professional expertise can be a resource for the people that you're meeting.
As an introvert, superficial conversations can be frustrating. Approach these large events as an opportunity to make the acquaintance of people that you can follow up with later on for the deeper conversation you prefer. The measure of success is not the number of people you meet; it's the opportunity you've created to follow up with people to further the relationships that you've started.
Additional advice from Wendy Gelberg to help introverts succeed with their networking, including (from the list on the right):
Wendy Gelberg is a Career Navigator at JVS CareerSolution in Boston and author of The Successful Introvert: How to Enhance Your Job Search and Advance Your Career. She is a certified career coach and resume writer whose expertise is in helping people who are uncomfortable "tooting their own horn." Wendy writes resumes, gives workshops, coaches individuals, and writes articles and blogs on all aspects of the job search process. Samples of her resumes and career advice appear in over 20 books. Wendy has been a career coach and resume writer for over 15 years. She has been an introvert her whole life. Contact Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org.