I walk into a room of 30+ professionals all milling around, drinking a cocktail, and chatting with each other.  Immediately, I begin to feel a little panicked, palms clammy, heart racing, classic signs of anxiety.  For me, going to a large networking event where I don’t know anyone and am expected to make small talk and “work the room” is akin to a teenager having to go without their smartphone for more than 15 minutes—sheer torture.  But this is what you’re “supposed to do” when you are growing a new private practice.  As an introvert, I know that I am much more comfortable in a one-on-one setting or very small group.  I am able to make better connections in environments where I feel at ease and am able to confidently talk about what I do. So in order to save myself, I have learned some strategies to make useful business connections as an introvert:

Organize One-on-One Meetings

Other introverts will thank you for this one.  Being an introvert doesn’t mean you don’t like being around people.  It simply means we are at our best in a smaller setting, and sometimes we need to create a setting where we will thrive.  Use LinkedIn as a tool to find people in your area and reach out.  Even better?  Ask a mutual connection to help with an introduction.  Contact them to grab a coffee, lunch, phone call, whatever.  Share how you can be good referral sources for each other.  Before you end the meeting, share someone else you think they might be able to network with and them to do the same.  That way, you will have a personal connection in common which doesn’t feel as daunting.

Create Your Own Events

Scheduling multiple one-on-one meetings can be very time consuming.  Think about creating your own networking event.  Invite three or four colleagues and have them bring along another professional for a small group networking meeting.  Keep it to a manageable group.  I partnered with two other therapists and began hosting larger events located in a small area of a big city.  It was a great way to connect with a lot of therapists at once.

Think About Timing

Even as an introvert, meeting a new person one-on-one can be draining.  Make sure to schedule some time after your meeting to recalibrate and recharge.  Your next client or meeting will appreciate it.  Also, know when you are at your best.  If you’re not a morning person, don’t agree to an 8AM coffee meeting.  If you have a day full of clients and need some time to yourself afterwards, avoid happy hour meetings on those days.

Take a Friend to Bigger Events

Avoiding large networking groups and conferences all together is not always the best option.  They can be an effective way to meet lots of people in one fell swoop.  I find I’m a lot more comfortable when there’s a friendly face around.  You can make a plan to start together and check in with each other when either of you needs a break from the overwhelming large group.

Just because you’re an introvert doesn’t mean you can’t network to make helpful professional connections.  Take your time in building quality connections in situations where you can be your best.  Know yourself and what works best for you, and you will be on your way to building an extensive professional network.