Networking for introverts in the valley and beyond
“Another beautiful day out there, eh?”
Thats how most of my conversations begin in any given networking setting. Can you tell I’m Canadian? Here’s the thing—networking sucks. Well, I’m certainly not a fan of it. For the most part, networking consists of a bunch of strangers getting together to eat and drink on someone else’s tab (if you’re lucky), and talk about themselves with the hope of racking up a new LinkedIn connection. Don’t get me wrong; for those who know how to play the game it can be lucrative—more power to them.
For those of us that tend to lean more on the introverted side, it’s not as easy to play this game. Actually, I believe it’s an advantage to be an introvert in business, and especially as an entrepreneur. My friend Jeremy Vandehey, the CEO of Growbot, put this much more eloquently in an article he wrote about being an introverted founder.
I’m here to shed some light on how I personally look at networking and some techniques I use to continue growing my network while staying true to myself. Hopefully there will be some helpful nuggets of gold in here.
It’s all about relationships. I think those who ultimately win in business and in life are playing the long game. So when it comes to networking, if you’re that person that sprints to the stage after a fireside chat to try and give your elevator pitch to the speaker just know that I’m probably snickering at you. And look, that takes a lot of guts and shows hustle—to which I have utmost respect. Am I losing a potential opportunity by not running up there? Maybe. More than likely though, you look desperate. What I mean is, I’m a fairly good read of people and when I study those interactions, rarely do I see genuine attention and interest from the receiving end.
So, what could you do that doesn’t look desperate? First, realize it’s not all about you. Even as an introvert you’ll find yourself stumbling upon a good conversation or two organically. Use this opportunity to learn more about the person you’re speaking to. Genuinely show interest in them or their venture etc. and you’ll actually find they begin to be much more attentive and likely to listen if the torch gets passed. It also doesn’t hurt to try and think of ways that you can provide value for them. Can you introduce them to someone that would be beneficial to them? Can you provide relevant feedback or advice? You might find that reframing the focus to providing them value will actually be the start of a fruitful relationship—and I find it’s much easier and less pressure to listen.
My favorite approach is to go in with a goal. I try and plan networking type events strategically around goals. What this means is, if I have a particular project or initiative I’m working on, where could I go or who could I meet that would be a catalyst for this? I try and narrow it down to be as specific as possible. For example, if I really want PiedPiper as a client I’ll first identify who the key stakeholder is I need to talk to. Then I’ll make sure to cross reference Eventbrite or Meetup before going to a networking event to see if I could run into the stakeholder—this can work in reverse too, by taking a look at an event list and picking those who you really want to speak with for X reason before attending. I would then use the first tactic we talked about by trying to provide them value first and begin building a relationship with them.
Surround yourself with greatness
Have you ever got back home after an event and just crashed? There are limited statistics or research done on the “social draining” effect for introverts, but plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that these situations are exhausting for more introverted individuals. So, I think one of my biggest quarrels with networking in general is that, with all the mental exhaustion, it can been brutally unproductive.
You’re automatically in a better position to combat this if you’re in Silicon Valley because of the proximity to an incredible ecosystem—but what if you’re not? I’ll share what has worked for me in the past. You might not care about ties to Silicon Valley, but it’s always a great example when it comes to the startup or tech ecosystem. So no matter where you’re trying to carve a foot hole, the goal is to find at least one individual that can bridge that gap for you.
When we first started building Obie I knew that I needed ties in the Valley in order to really compete on another level. The problem was I didn’t know anyone there! The first year into the company we showcased in the startup pavilion at HR Tech in Las Vegas. While everyone was doing outbound, going around introducing one-another to the other vendors I was quietly observing. I noticed an attractive startup across the way, and sure enough, they were from San Francisco! Over the two days at the conference I made sure to learn about their company, take interest in the founders and create depth—not width. I’ve stayed in touch with those founders, and can honestly say it was not only one of my first foot holes when traveling to the valley but one of the most fruitful and enjoyable business relationships I’ve had to date. I’ve met clients, investors and friends through this one simple connection. I believe that is because of the depth of the connection. This is not the only time this type of thing has happened, but I’ll spare you the time.
Those are a few over arching strategies I use when thinking about networking. I’m always learning and iterating, so there could very well be a part 2 of this in the future. In the meantime, if you’re an introvert (or not), what tactics do you use while networking that have proven to be lucrative? Sound off in the comments, I would love to learn more!
Thanks to Carolyn Chong for reading early versions of this.