How introverts can network powerfully: key ways to rock at networking when you hate it

By Kathy Caprino

We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual — the kind who’s comfortable ‘putting himself out there.’ Sure, we allow technologically gifted loners who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy or hold the promise of doing so.

While introverts rightly resist being held to an ill-fitting standard, professionals today do indeed need to find a way to muster the energy and courage to network and build a powerful support community. If they don’t, they’ll miss out on critical advice, feedback, mentorship and sponsorship essential for their growth.

To learn more about how introverts can network successfully (even if they hate it), I caught up with Dorie Clark, the author of a great new book Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It. A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, Dorie teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and is a consultant and speaker for clients such as Google, Morgan Stanley and the World Bank.  I’ve seen Dorie in action as a networker and true connector, and her approach is empowering and enlivening for everyone involved.

Caprino: How can we make a favourable impression right away?

Clark: When I interviewed famed psychologist Robert Cialdini, whom I profiled in my new ebook Stand Out Networking, he told me the best way to make a favourable impression is to find a commonality with the person you’re talking to – as quickly as possible. If you know who is going to attend in advance (if an event guest list has been published), you can do a bit of online research and look for things you have in common. And if you’re meeting someone blind, you can still try to steer the conversation to discover shared interests, whether it’s a hobby, an alma mater, the neighbourhood where you live, where your kids go to school, etc. This immediately helps the person view you as part of their circle – an ‘us’ rather than a ‘them.’

Caprino: What’s the best way to build a networking relationship online?

Clark: The key in online networking is to realize it’s not an end unto itself. It can be a good starting point; for instance, I have friends who first reached out to me on Twitter and we subsequently built relationships. It can also be a great way to stay in touch with people you already know and to keep yourself top of mind; a quick tweet or message on LinkedIn is a nice way to share interesting articles, compliment someone if they published an interesting article, or the like. But on its own, that’s not enough.

At some point, you need to connect in person. If you’re heading to a conference, think about which online contacts in your industry might also be there and invite them for a cup of coffee. If you’re taking a vacation or business trip to a certain city, look in your database to see who lives there that you’d like to meet. That’s what cements online relationships for life.

Caprino: How can you identify immediately the people you stay away from?

Clark: Recent research has shown the important role of the ‘second brain’ in your stomach – the source of ‘gut feelings.’ If someone is making you uncomfortable for any reason – they’re talking way too much about themselves, engaging in over-the-top boasting, or seem sketchy in some way – then listen to your instinct and move along to networking with someone who feels more simpatico. Life’s too short to waste time on people you don’t enjoy.

Caprino: Finally, what role does luck play in networking and how can you increase your luck?

Clark: In Stand Out, I profiled Anthony Tjan, a venture capitalist who co-authored a book called Hearts, Smarts, Guts, and Luck that sought to understand the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs and top executives. Interestingly, a substantial portion – a full 25% of these successful leaders – self-identified as ‘lucky.’ That might sound strange or somehow self-deprecating. Are they saying they didn’t deserve their success or weren’t qualified for it? But actually, the story is far more interesting.

It turns out that what is understood as ‘luck’ is actually the combination of two other powerful attitudes that anyone can cultivate: curiosity and humility. Many people are so focused on the goal at hand – I have to meet this person, so they can do XYZ for me! – they often overlook the other interesting people around them.

In contrast, the luck-driven entrepreneurs are curious about others and humble enough to realize they have a lot to learn from everyone, whether or not that person is a famous journalist or a top VC or just a ‘regular person.’ Because surprisingly often, that ‘regular person’ may be exactly who you need in your life a year or five years or 10 years down the road, but everyone else ignored them. It’s very possible to increase your luck, if you’re willing to be curious and humble about those around you.

A longer version of this article first appeared at