Networking for introverts

19th June, 2017

If there’s one thing which fills an introvert with dread, it’s a looming networking event in their calendar.

Fronting up to put in some face time to win new clients and meet industry leaders is seen as a necessary evil.

But here’s the kicker: it’s not.

US-based author Derek Coburn told The Pulse that there was good news for introverts. He says that large networking functions are mostly useless anyway.

“I think there’s a lot of risk involved with attending larger events like that. Are they even worth your time and money to attend?” he said.

What’s an introvert anyway?

Coburn, networking expert and author of Networking is Not Working said it may surprise some to learn that he considers himself an introvert – despite the fact he’s built a business on the back of social interaction.

“To me, the discussion around introverts and extroverts is mostly about how you like to recharge,” he said.

“Even though I host large events and attend larger events, I would much rather go out to dinner with two or three other couples rather than be in a room with a few hundred people and have conversations with people I don’t know well.”

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the role of introverts in business, and how narrowly we’re defining the term.

Extroverts seemed to have the edge over their introspective cousins, as they could network like the wind and hand out business cards at a rate of knots.

But a growing body of evidence suggests that it’s the quality of connection, rather than sheer numbers, that ends up providing the most value.
Coburn also argues that large networking events are hugely inefficient.

Why networking functions don’t work

“I never go to a larger networking event where there’s no specific agenda. If the agenda is ‘come here, meet some people, collect some business cards, and find out what other people do’, I won’t go,” said Coburn.

“The only way that event is going to be successful for me…is if I can meet a few people who I can connect with in a meaningful way, and hopefully on an ongoing basis.”

He says the large networking events that introverts loathe, while not on the way out, aren’t seen as a great way of collecting quality connections.

After all, he says, if it’s raw numbers you’re after you can basically sit in your pyjamas sipping wine while spamming LinkedIn at home.

“If anybody who goes to networking events on a regular basis were to step back and do an audit of how many relationships they formed at those events…I think it would put a spotlight on how ineffective these events are,” said Coburn.

“My definition of networking is any activity that increases the value of your network or the value you contribute to it.

“That can be accomplished by avoiding going to the larger events altogether.”

An alternate approach

He says those not comfortable with large-scale networking events would get more value in organising regular lunches (with separate billing) with the contacts they do have – and then going from there.

Try facilitating a roundtable with a few of your contacts. Each person can spend a few minutes talking about their business and how they can add value to others.

It facilitates a much more valuable interaction, and one that won’t send introverts into a dizzying panic.

Coburn says he’s conducted about 500 of these lunches over the years, and they keep on working.

“After you do the first one or two the people you invited initially start to invite their contacts,” he said.

“That then becomes a great way for me to meet people that I hadn’t previously met in a setting I’m controlling where I know it’s going to be productive.

“If you go to a larger event, that doesn’t happen.”

Introverts thrive on smaller, but higher-quality connections with people. Networking events, by and large, don’t give you quality connections – so why not avoid them altogether?