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How to Network Like an Extrovert When You Would Rather Stay Home
I am an overcompensating introvert.
Yes, that’s a real thing.
You’ll see me out in social or work situations making new best friends, making introductions, and making people laugh or think. Once when I was at a change management conference I approached a rockstar in our industry named Tim, thrust my hand out to him, and boldly proclaimed, “Hi, I’m Kari Ginsburg. You may not know me yet, but you will.”
You also may see me nestled with pets, sitting in a corner of a couch for three hours, or forcing the knot of people to become a rhombus while I listen from the edges. Canceling at the last minute or silently slipping out like I was never there.
I try too hard. I exhaust my energy. I recharge. I repeat the cycle.
And quite honestly, I’d rather not.
From the outside, you’d never know that I’m not gregarious or unreserved, which is how good ol’ Merriam-Webster defines extroversion. I’m not exactly shy but I am a bit reticent. I’m a big thinker and an internal processor. I prefer twos and threes to large groups.
Caution: Here there be introverts
When I opened Uproar, my biggest worry was how I would network as a business owner. How would I create a community for and around my business beyond my clients when 90% of my daily coaching work is about holding space for, and devoting energy and resources to, others? ESPECIALLY when I nerd out about the work I get to do every day. Where would I be able to make room or “find harmony” with the ins and outs of what it means TO ME to be a small business owner?
I couldn’t possibly be the only introvert in business, right? In 2019, 50% of the US population identified as introverts; who knows what the pandemic did to that statistic (but really, does anyone know? I couldn’t find anything when I gave it an extensive Goog). And according to Forbes, “business success is about making smart decisions and solving problems,” not about socializing. Also, pardon the cover picture of Elon in this article. Other than that nonsense, the article is really great.
The secret, it seems, comes down to intention: how do you channel your energy for maximum impact? How do you amplify your introversion as a superpower? I’ve embraced two approaches that have me socializing like an extrovert without hurting my tender, introverted heart.
I loathe group networking things. My experience has been these group gatherings feel sales-y – like everyone is working to outsell or outshine the other people there. Or maybe I just haven’t found the right fit yet. Either way, they’re just not for me. I don’t come off as my best self. I end up feeling gross about the whole thing; like I’ve wasted time.
Instead, I’ve looked for people who are doing interesting things, and then I contact them with a specific question or point of connection and invite them for a virtual coffee chat. Sometimes I find these folks on LinkedIn, sometimes they’re a friend-of-a-friend (you know the drill, “You should really get to know my friend Raya, you’ll love them! And you have such similar energy/interests/backgrounds/fill-in-the-blank”), others are folks I’ve met in passing at larger events.
Here’s why you’ll love this approach:
- You get to reach out to people you’re interested in connecting with. You can lurk and do research and prepare yourself to send an email without the dread of feeling awkward or out of place.
- There’s an identified topic to speak about, which bypasses the need for small talk or weird icebreakers. Don’t get me wrong, exchange some pleasantries, but really you’re here to talk about… whatever it is that connects you to that person.
- The invitee can opt in or opt out, and either way, it’s not about you. It’s not personal. They can click a link to your coffee chat scheduler or not. If they don’t, no problem: you get to save your energy for a different day.
- There’s a 30-minute time commitment. You get in, you talk about the Thing, and you end. If you want to talk longer or connect again, you can. But you know how to prepare yourself for 30 minutes.
Small groups, but it’s not gross or sales-y
This is a spin on one-on-one networking. Find a group of people who are into what you’re into, who are doing what you’re doing, and who are somehow aligned with your values and goals.
Here’s an example:
I consume far too much true crime content. I particularly love the podcast True Crime Obsessed (or, TCO if you’re a big ol’ nerd about it, like me). Not too long ago, a couple of folks who live in my area posted to the TCO Facebook community asking if anyone would like to meet up at a local brewery. Was I in the market for new friends? Nope. Was I actively trying to get out more? Begrudgingly yes. So I went and I had a lovely time.
Here’s why you’ll love this approach:
- The people you’re meeting have a specific shared interest. You won’t need to fish around for topics to discuss. But you should be prepared with your, “Hello my name is… and I am/do….”
- You can listen easily to the conversation without vying for a place. You’re at the table. Contribute as much or as little as you want.
- Give yourself a time limit and allow yourself to exercise it. You don’t have to stay, and you don’t have to leave. But you have the security of it should you want to boogie. A quick note here: if you want to leave, gather your things and say goodbye. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for why you’re leaving. Ever. My favorite is, “It was really great meeting everyone. Maybe we’ll see each other again soon?” And then buh-bye. Who knows, there may be another introvert at the table secretly praising you for giving them permission to leave, too.
This example is superficially social but I bet you can see how this could also apply to business-y interests, too.
Take Care Of You
As small business owners and entrepreneurs and freelancers and gig goddesses, you’re going to interact with people that will put a strain on your energy. I invite you to create three routines: one to pump yourself up before, one to wind down or recharge, and an escape route for when it’s just not happening for you. Be honest with yourself about how your needs will support you as you develop and hold strong boundaries. And continue to kick ass in the way that feels most true to you.
Your introversion is a superpower, not a liability. I promise.
And really, it was great meeting you. Maybe we’ll connect again soon, one-on-one?
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