I recently watched Pixar Animated’s Film Inside Out, an imaginary tale of how the emotions inside the mind direct our interactions with the outside world. I could particularly relate to the character Fear, who, according to the movie, is supposed to take over when you are about to engage in potentially harmful or stupid actions. However, when Fear stays in control, Fear goes overboard and impedes personal growth and development.

As an introvert, attending a networking event is way outside of my comfort zone. I am fairly certain that there is a Fear character in my head trying to take over my control board by convincing me to detour and do just about anything else. However, networking is an essential element of career success and if Fear remains in control, I will miss out on professional opportunities. Over time, I have learned that networking events do not need to be associated with Fear and that introverts can be just as effective and enjoy them as much as extroverts. The following are four tips I have used to effectively navigate networking events.

Practical Tips to Approach an Event

1. Prepare in Advance

There is nothing worse than entering a room full of strangers, and not knowing what to say. As an introvert, I am at my best when I have time beforehand to process my thoughts and even hold a few networking conversations in my head prior to the event. Event invitations and websites provide much information including the event’s purpose, sponsoring organizations, and formality.

Generally, event organizers are very generous with regard to providing guests with as much information as they need in advance. For instance, I am the primary administrator of Santa Clara Law’s Diversity Gala. It is a large networking event bringing together approximately 400 law students, attorneys, and judges to promote an inclusive legal profession. My staff receives numerous questions from attendees prior to the event inquiring into everything from parking, dress code, and everything in between. We want our guests to enjoy themselves, and to connect with others at the event. Therefore, we try to release as much information as is possible, and are happy to field questions.

In addition to dressing appropriately and stocking my bag with business cards, I catch up on current events of interest to make small talk, prepare a quick 30 second elevator pitch about myself, and a follow up question for the person who asked me, “What do you do?” Santa Clara Law students can purchase business cards at a nominal price through the Student Bar Association.

2. You Might Want to Take a Friend

There are a lot of advantages to not going it alone. Taking a friend might provide just the right amount of accountability for you to arrive at and stay at the event. Friends can compare notes about people that they met, act as each other’s wingmen to end conversations, and introduce each other to new contacts.

However, introverts need to exercise caution and have a plan if they are attending an event with a friend. Otherwise, they might be tempted to stay in their comfort zone by talking to their friend the entire time and never meet anyone new. If you go to the event with a friend, pick up your name tag, get a lay of the land, grab a beverage and agree to meet up in a while.

3. Set Goals

Regardless of whether you attend solo or with a companion, go to the event with goals in mind. After I scan the room, I am tempted to make a quick exit if I do not know anyone. I set goals for the length of time to remain at the event – forcing myself to talk to others. Additionally, I try to set goals about the minimum number of people I want to speak with.

4. Do What Introverts Do Best

Most importantly, realize that introverts have networking strengths. In her Ted Talk, Susan Cain describes how the police needed to shut down the Brooklyn streets where her introverted grandfather had lived after he passed away because so many people came to mourn his passing. Introverts tend to prefer small group and one on one conversation, focusing on building individual relationships. The real power in networking is not about fulfilling our own individual goals; it is about building a genuine and authentic relationship with another person. Use your preferences to begin to learn more about the people around you, end the conversation at the appropriate time and follow up to meet again in the future. You do not need to focus on meeting everyone at the event—just on having a few high quality interactions.

The next few blog posts will delve into greater depth on developing an elevator pitch and maximizing participation in professional association events. From on introvert to another, use these four tips to remove Fear from the control panel, and find Joy in developing your network.

Vicki Huebner

Vicki Huebner, Assistant Dean for Law Career Services, Santa Clara University School of Law

Vicki Huebner is the Assistant Dean in the Office of Career Management at Santa Clara Law. She is a seasoned career services professional and is a frequent speaker and author for industry related publications and meetings and holds appointed and elected positions in NALP, the Association of Legal Career Professionals. Prior to entering the career services profession, Vicki practiced civil litigation in Huntington Beach, California and served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Ronald M. Holdaway of the United States Court of Veterans Appeals in Washington, DC. Vicki earned both her JD and BA degrees from Brigham Young University in Utah.