Networking might sound like a nightmare when you’re introverted by nature. But it’s super important to building your business and community, and it doesn’t have to be a drag.
I’m one of the three organizers of Midwest Craft Con, a retreat for mid-career makers in Columbus, Ohio. Although I love running the show, meeting people and being onstage, I am actually an introvert at heart. (What attendees don’t see is that after I’ve been on stage for three days at the con, I maintain utter solitude for the following 48 hours.)
I’ve been to big conferences and little ones, and they can be equally exhausting. From my many times attending SXSW, craft business summits and design conferences, these are my tried-and-true tips for making the most of networking as an introvert.
- Work on your elevator pitch. Part of owning your own business is figuring out how to explain it in just a few seconds. When someone asks you what you do — which is bound to happen about a billion times at a conference — have a snappy sentence prepared that succinctly describes your interests and business. Like:
- “I create pop-culture-inspired crochet patterns for tweens.”
- “My business is upcycling carpet and wood scraps into cat trees.”
- Or even: “I’m still figuring that out, but I really love hot-gluing googly eye sculptures and I’m hoping to turn that into a real business next year.”
- Ask lots of questions. Networking is all about connecting to other people, human-to-human. Meeting people gets easy when you simply ask questions, like “What is that gorgeous yarn you’re using?” Or “I can’t decide which session to go to next. Which one are you considering?” Asking questions is also a great tactic for deflecting attention away from yourself if you are feeling self-conscious.
- Go deep. Networking isn’t about distributing as many business cards as possible or meeting every single person in the room. Making a few really meaningful connections is much better than cropdusting the conference center with superficialities. So when you meet some people you really click with, go with it!
- Allow space for serendipity. Some of my most memorable conference experiences have come from breaking away from what I thought I was going to be doing to join new friends for drinks or dinner or exploring. At Midwest Craft Con, we also have guidelines for inclusivity: If you see something interesting happening and want to participate, just ask if you can join in. And if someone seems like they want to join your conversation or activity, welcome them.
- Just be yourself. If you feel nervous, copping to feeling nervous has the unexpected but delightful effect of endearing people to you. A false confidence, bravado or cockiness has the exact opposite effect. Don’t fake it, just be you.
- Follow up! Forge those new friendships into lasting relationships by following up with new contacts within a week of the conference. That can include following them on Facebook or Instagram, or sending an email to let them know how much you enjoyed meeting them.
Here are a few more resources for you introverts out there:
- My talk on networking like a human from Weapons of Mass Creation
- Tara Swiger’s introverts’ survival guide to conferences
You can put these networking tips to use at Midwest Craft Con, happening Feb. 10-12, 2017, in Columbus. Craft Industry Alliance members can get the early bird discount until the conference with the discount code OMGCIA. See you in Ohio!