Networking, often seen as “extrovert territory,” can be perceived as daunting and uncomfortable for many introverts. Rather than working a room the way an extrovert would, speaking to many people for little time, introverts often speak to fewer people but have longer, more detailed, richer conversations. Those conversations, which often go beyond the superficial, can lead to relationships lasting after the event instead of manifesting in a mere follow-up e-mail blast.
One half of one of Canada’s most powerful power couples told me how he and his wife network: very differently from each other, it turns out. His wife, a very typical extrovert (like myself), works the whole room and goes to virtually every table in a ballroom, spending a couple of minutes with each group. She has a great personality; everyone knows who she is; and people are eager to connect with her. There is often laughter, and people are charmed. However, little of substance is said. That is not a criticism—she is a very thoughtful leader; it is simply the nature of how she and I network at big events like this one. The way we extroverts network leaves too little time to have in-depth conversations.
Her husband, the quintessential senior CEO introvert, works the room very differently. He talks to a small number of people, perhaps only three or four over the course of an evening—a couple at dinner and a couple before or afterward. His wife says he should work the room like she does. He disagrees—and I think he is right.
The wonderful advantage of how he networks is that at the end of an evening, he’s had in-depth, substantial conversations with a handful of people, genuinely thrilled that a billionaire gave them his whole attention for 20-30 minutes. If he reaches out to them in the future, they will agree to connect—and most likely with pleasure—partly because of who he is but mainly because there was the foundation of a relationship planted at the event.
One of the greatest tools I’ve seen to complement this kind of superb, more introverted networking is LinkedIn. One of the nice things about LinkedIn for introverts is that they can send one-on-one messages in the quiet of their own offices or homes, whenever is convenient. This is a great way for an introvert to reach out to others as they look to connect and grow their network.
Let’s say you can see a list of who is coming to a networking event. An excellent thing for a more introverted person to do (or a more extroverted one too, come to think about it) is to focus on a small number of people to connect with. With LinkedIn, you can quickly go through dozens of people, see who is a more natural fit with your interests, and then suss out the small number of people with whom you’d want to spend some quality time—people who might become a genuine part of your network.
I would even consider connecting with them on LinkedIn or sending them a message, saying that you will be at the event and that you would like to chat with them about topic X or Y. Perhaps you could send a link to an article the person might be interested in or set up a coffee date after the event to continue the conversation. This kind of thoughtful research and knowledge about networking prospects impresses most people. After receiving your note, taking a look at your LinkedIn profile, and seeing the possible points of connection (which is why you should update that profile!), they will most likely want to meet with you.
Introverts often network differently from extroverts. Through interviewing hundreds of senior leaders who are introverts, I am becoming more convinced that as an extrovert, I need to emulate introverts and learn to network more effectively.
Karl Moore is a Professor at the Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University.