It can be difficult being an introvert. Especially when networking can seem so set up for extraverts. You have to interact with other people and it can be an absolute effort at times. But what can make it easier? Shared interests. Skip all that small talk nonsense and get straight into something you care about.
How can you find those shared interests?
On the internet you can just find a forum, group board for *that thing you like*. Easy as. But IRL, it's more difficult. Unless you want to run up the road / through your office / around town screaming “I like X – join me if you also like X!” So what can you do without resorting to attention seeking or sending an all staff email declaring your interests?
You don't necessarily have to be a traditional geek but, let's face it, we all tend to be a bit geeky when it comes to our niche. Whether that's DnD or motor sports or kumihimo bands or Irregular Choice shoes... Admittedly, if you like Irregular Choice shoes then it won't take long for people to notice that. The others may be a bit trickier. If you work in an environment where you can get away with t-shirts, then geek signalling can be as simple as wearing a shirt with a joke or phrase from your favourite show, game or lifestyle choice.
But that won't work for everyone. Maybe you need to be a bit more subtle. Does that one couple you can't get enough of have an apple as a symbol of their love? Some apple jewellery would be an indicator to those in the know, but is totally non-offensive to anyone else.
Yeah, I'm going to come up with this first because jewellery is my life. A quick scan of Etsy, Folksy and the like will give you a range of pieces that fans will recognise that don't have to be as unsubtle. You can get fun cufflinks with geeky jokes on them. It's all far more socially acceptable now, even with officewear. Which also means there is far more out there that is higher quality and more likely to fit the niche you like.
Another easy way to get the message out, and start conversations, is through stationery. If it's a major fandom, you'll be able to find notebooks and pens all over the place. You can get the full Star Wars range in the Poundshop. Or if that's a bit much, you can get themed planner stickers. I've seen dragon themed checklists, Gilmore Girls planner pouches, galaxy book marks... it's all out there. Again, anyone in the know will spot it instantly. And it will start a conversation; a proper one when you're both invested and you don't have to over-think everything you say. Again, this is just a notebook or pen you'd need anyway but can get you talking.
If you're online networking, consider what can be seen in the Zoom window. Do you have a painting you created? A photo of your dog? A colourful cushion? These can all help build up an impression. Or if you have a virtual background, there is lots of room to have fun and show your personality. And it covers up the mess in the corner.
The way to find out what someone is interested in is to ask them. You could be talking to one of three accountants in the room, but they'll all have a different approach. Ask them what interests them about their job, about their approach or why they chose accountancy over something else. You'll get very different answers from different people, and the odds are there will be one you'd much rather work with once you know how they approach things. And it allows for those moments when someone lights up because they're passionate about what they're talking about.
When you introduce yourself and your business, why not mention something unique that helps people remember you and shows how you're different. Maybe you have an office cat who helps with proofreading, maybe you're really interested in helping advise customers or you specialise in working with a certain piece of software. This gives far more information than “I'm a VA” and makes you more of a real person as people have an opportunity to get to know you.
Connect after an event
If you feel like you've got on with someone, even if you may not be able to work with them right away, then send an invitation on LinkedIn, or your preferred method of communication. There's nothing worse than missed opportunities or thinking “I really should have made the effort...” If you need some decompression time after a networking event, then add in some time to make those handy connections.
This is an introvert approach to networking that has worked for me and helped others feel comfortable. You don't have to do all of it, just see what works for you.
Do you have any suggestions of ideas that help you feel more confident and make connections?