Growth Guides Marketing Tony Harbron, Holly Whitehead and Barley networking Exeter Devon

An introvert’s guide to networking events

This world – especially the business world – can feel like it’s geared towards the more extroverted among us. And it’s quite easy for us introverts to feel a little bit out of place,  or perhaps even slightly embarrassed, by the fact we don’t thrive in rooms full of strangers…

But just because it’s not our natural habitat doesn’t mean we can’t do it. Just because we find it draining or difficult or just a bit of a pain in the ass, doesn’t mean we aren’t good at it, even.

Tony and I both have a tendency to shy away from environments that involve lots of people. Honestly, there is no thought worse for someone like me, an introvert through and through, than stepping into a room full of strangers – and extroverted strangers at that – who are there for the sole purpose of interacting with each other.

You know it – I’m talking about networking events.

Now don’t get me wrong: I love talking to people. I enjoy discussing ideas and am passionate enough that once I’ve found my groove, I can happily chat away for ages.

But networking events are my biggest nightmare. To have to approach people, introduce myself and make small talk about the weather or how nice the venue is is really not my thing. I can do it. I just don’t love it.

I’ve had to find ways of dealing with it, though. People buy people and as much as I wish I could foster all the relationships in the world from behind the safety of my computer screen, it’s just not how it works.

So I have a few little tips and tricks that serve me well in the world of networking, and I’d like to share them with my fellow introverts. I would also love to hear any other advice from people who’ve had to push themselves into these situations!

1) Pick the right event/s

This is important – networking events vary so much, from launch events to fancy dinners to conferences to breakfasts. In which environment are you most comfortable? Would you rather be sat around a table with a designated spot or are you happier floating through a bar, chatting to anyone and everyone?

We’re all different and personally, I prefer non-sit-down events because if I don’t click with one person, there are plenty more I can move on and chat to. Choice is important to me. The ability to walk away if I’m uncomfortable. Even just knowing I can normally means I don’t!

Others prefer to be settled next to a couple of people they can happily get to know without the fear of having to go and introduce themselves to someone new if the conversation dries up.

It’s also wise to have a look at who is hosting the event – it’s always easier when you know you’ll have friends there, plus you can generally get a good idea of who else will be attending and what the vibe is likely to be like based on the host. Is the event geared towards hard selling? Building relationships? Collaborating with like-minded people in similar roles? All suit different people so decide which you like best (and which work best!) and try and prioritise those.

2) Find a way of getting people to come to you

This might sound tricky but it really doesn’t have to be. It could be as simple as choosing a strategic spot by the bar or the free prosecco. It might be wearing something with your company logo, so people interested in working with your business come over for a chat. Whatever floats your boat!

Tony and I revolutionised our networking game with Barley – an undeniably adorable poodle pup who draws a crowd wherever he goes.

We don’t have to move from our seats, we get to chat to plenty of people as they coo over him and bonus – we have both an excuse to leave at any stage because he’s only little and gets very excited!

Obviously this won’t work for everyone, but the point is, be creative. It helps people remember you too, which isn’t always easy in a sea of business-people.

3) Focus on quality, not quantity

This is about everything, from the people you talk to, the conversations you have, the time you spend at the event or the number of events you attend.

Don’t get me wrong either – it’s not to say a scatter-gun approach doesn’t work – many find great success with it. But for us introverts in particular, it’s exhausting and unnecessary. We are characterised by the fact that social situations tire us out. So surely it’s better to have one meaningful conversation in which you build trust and a good rapport than ten forgettable ones?

4) Stick to subjects you’re passionate about

Shyness and introversion aren’t the same thing but they do often overlap. My favourite way of overcoming this is by talking about the things I am passionate about .

Talk to me about the weather or gossip and i’ll be awkward and stumble over my words. But as soon as I start talking about things that matter to me, i’m animated, confident and a far better conversationalist (I hope, anyway!).

And this shouldn’t be hard, especially if you pick the right events – whether it’s your area of expertise, the industry you work in or a sport/interest you have in common – find the things that make you tick and people who are happy to chat about them. And bonus – it’s also likely to result in a better rapport and a quality conversation.

5) Be you

Don’t pretend to be an extrovert. Don’t put on an act. Even if that means starting a conversation by commenting on how you find these events difficult. People like honesty and authenticity. And if they don’t? Well they’re probably not your people anyway.

As long as you’re not downing bottles of wine and slurring drunken abuse at anyone who wanders past, you’re unlikely to make a bad impression.


Got anything to add to the list? I’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂 

By Holly Whitehead...

Holly Whitehead, co-founder of Growth Guides, the Exeter-based team helping founders and ambitious companies scale up quickly and sustainably

Holly Whitehead is a marketing professional with hands-on B2B and B2C expertise driving and managing rapid growth, including through external investment.

Experience ranges from day-to-day execution of marketing activity to wider strategy, brand development, product launches and the recruitment and management both of internal teams and 3rd parties/agencies.

In 2018 Holly was selected as one of '35 business people under 35 to watch out for' by Devon Live.

She is passionate about combining strategy, culture and action both to deliver results now and to set up brands/businesses for long-term and sustainable success.

With a love for working with amazing people/founders who are intent on doing worthwhile things and are ready to break the rules.

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