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Networking for Introverts: Success Doesn’t Have to Feel Like a Root Canal

For many professionals, networking events bring back unpleasant memories of middle school, feeling vulnerable, alone, and on the outside looking in at others who seemed to know everyone else. How do we make what seems so overwhelming – or just like torture – a successful endeavor?

Feb 27, 2023, 05:45 AM

Dorothy PotashBy Dorothy Potash


For many professionals, networking events bring back unpleasant memories of middle school, feeling vulnerable, alone, and on the outside looking in at others who seemed to know everyone else. Now, post-COVID, many of us are out of practice and the unpleasantness has become dread. “It is hard,” as one of my friends recently said, “to be so present.”  

Attending events, hosting events, and finding the right opportunities to be able to network with peers, experts in the industries or sectors we serve, clients, potential clients, referral sources, and those connected in our communities are still crucial to professional success. How do we make what seems so overwhelming – or just like torture – a successful endeavor?  

Preparation

Before jumping into the pool, find out how deep it is, if anybody is in the water, that there is water. In short, do your homework. A little bit of prep can make an event, whether large or intimate, feel smaller.

Three CPAs having a relaxed conversation at a networking eventStart by researching the attendee list. Are any of your clients, targets, referral sources, or people whom you want to get to know attending? If so, prioritize who is most important to you, then reach out ahead of time to meet at the event. Maybe find out who they want to meet. Offer to connect them to people you know if there is a match. Ask if they could introduce you to someone specific who is on the attendee list. And don’t forget to think about what you should bring with you, if anything.

Events can be intimidating and make you feel small, so don’t do it alone. Bring a wing person and vow to connect one another to others at the event. It can be a great opportunity for a coworker or referral source as well, so they may be eager to attend with you.

Before you decide to go, you likely will have (or should have) an idea of who is sponsoring and who is speaking. With these points in mind, identify your goals for the event:

  • Identify something new you wish to learn.
  • Commit to making a certain number of introductions.
  • Devise how you will prove return on investment that the event was worth your time and cost.

Now, develop a strategy for how you will meet each goal.

Have a plan (or plans) in case you feel awkward. (I strategically stand by the bar.) Also, preschedule an off-the-agenda event, such as drinks or dinner with selected individuals who will benefit from meeting one another.

As a final preparatory step, plan a method for follow up with all your new connections, and maybe even a few who were on your wish list but you didn’t get a chance to meet.

Show Up

You know the old saying that the key to success is just showing up. Well, that applies to networking events too. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you are tempted to bail out or put yourself in a box when there.

For starters, it is always easier to enter a group of three or more. But do not stay huddled in the same group or at the same table with your colleagues. Branch out. Then, make everyone you meet feel like they are the most important person there. Think about a specific way to help each person you meet rather than focusing on what can they do for you. Don’t just work the room to work the room.

Two professionals chatting at relaxed networking eventBe inquisitive, interested, humble, and helpful. Bring people into your conversations to connect others. Introduce those you meet to other people you know or met at the event. If you get stuck with one person too long, be polite, listen, and then introduce them to someone else. Remember the goals you set, and once you hit them, relax and have fun.

With all your new connections, ask if there are other events or associations they find worthwhile and connect on LinkedIn before you go. Make a note in your phone along with their contact info, where you met them, and something you learned about them.

Be Genuine

Let yourself be vulnerable. Chances are the people you will meet feel the same way about networking events as you do. They are just looking to make a friend, so be the first to reach out a hand. Listen first, and ask those you meet open-ended questions to learn more about them, their roles, and their organizations.  

In lieu of generic small talk, try these ice breakers:

  • Tell me about what you do. How did you end up in your current role?
  • Tell me what you love about what you do.
  • Tell me about how and where you find your clients.
  • Who is your ideal client? What is an ideal referral for you?
  • Who are you most hoping to meet at this event?  
Close the Loop

If you don’t follow up, you weren’t actually there. Set goals for after the event to follow up, including a touch strategy to engage with those you met.  

Find out what those you met with are thinking. Review each new contact on LinkedIn, note what they post, their interests, and their connections. From there, identify one or two key connections of theirs that you want to meet, consider whom you think they would want to meet that you know.

Reach out to those you met within 24 hours and either arrange a call, a meeting, or some other next step. Determine if there is anything you can send to your new contact that they would find interesting. Likewise, is there anything you learned at the event that you can share with your colleagues or send to your clients?

Get the registrants and attendee list. If you were unable to meet someone at the event, send an “I’m sorry I missed you” note with a request to get together.

Finally, identify a series of touchpoints for those priority contacts you made at the event, and consider creating a more intimate follow up event with those you met or wanted to meet.

You may never feel completely at ease with networking if you happen to be an introvert. But, with focused preplanning and specific goals and objectives to achieve at the event you may be surprised at how much easier it can be. Even without Novocain!


Dorothy Potash is president and cofounder of Development Dynamx LLC in Wayne, Pa. She can be reached at dorothy@developmentdynamx.com.


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Disclaimer

Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.

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