03/17/2014 12:40 pm ET Updated May 17, 2014

Networking Tips for Introverts

In a world that seems custom-made for those with outgoing personalities, attending networking events as an introvert may seem like a nerve-wracking experience, but it doesn't have to be. Introverts can have as many professional advantages as their extroverted counterparts, even when it comes to meeting new people.

The basic definition of networking is expanding your circle of contacts and nurturing mutually beneficial relationships. Start with these five tips:

  • Make a plan. Prepare a few conversation-starters to get the ball rolling when meeting someone new. Ask questions such as, "How long have you been in the oil and gas industry?" or, "Where did you originally meet our host?" Asking open ended questions has the added benefit of putting the focus on the other person. Most people enjoy talking about themselves and it positions you as being interested and engaged -- both positive networking tools.
  • Play to your strengths. A keen set of listening skills allows introverts to connect with others in a meaningful way. Your contemplative nature allows you to hone in on new information and ideas. The focus isn't on the quantity of connections, it's about the quality. Instead of suppressing this tendency, work in harmony with it. For example, when you are at a business event, set a realistic goal of having a good conversation with one or two new people, not leaving with a handful of business cards.
  • Schedule preparation and down time. Instead of arriving at a networking function feeling rushed and flustered, give yourself a window of time beforehand, take a few deep breathes and compose yourself before walking through the door. Because introverts often need time to recharge and decompress after being in a high-stimulation environment, avoid scheduling a big meeting or presentation on the same day as a networking function.
  • Create opportunities. Join a professional association or volunteer on a committee to connect with people who share similar interests. Networking is about building relationships. By surrounding yourself with like-minded professionals, you will naturally have things in common to discuss. Another tactic is to ask a trusted friend to bring a new contact to lunch. You will have a buffer to assist with the initial conversation. Use your imagination to find ways to network that are best suited for your individual personality.
  • Start with small steps at work. People are attracted to those who are genuine and comfortable with themselves. Don't be afraid to let your unique personality stand out. Instead of staying in the quiet of your office, take breaks throughout the day to walk through the hallways, smile at others and chat over a cup of coffee. Since your goal is to improve your conversation skills, start with your colleagues. Not only will this enhance relationships with coworkers, it's great practice.
Don't allow your reserved demeanor to be a stumbling block in your professional career. Very few people are natural at conversation and only through practice and commitment do they achieve a feeling of verbal confidence and ease when talking.

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