Networking for Introverts at Conferences…and elsewhere By Joshua Joseph

I’m Josh Joseph, senior officer in planning and evaluation at the Pew Charitable Trusts, here to talk about getting more from networking as AEA’s Annual Conference approaches.

I’m also introverted. Not shy, but not a natural mingler either.  Where some folks get energized by big gatherings, I still remember when meeting people at professional events felt more like an obstacle than an opportunity for career growth.

Much of the networking advice I’ve been given—like developing an elevator speech—hasn’t gone far enough. Below are a few lessons learned, followed by some tips for addressing common challenges that many people, including introverts, regularly face.

Lesson Learned: Content matters. Networking is about sharing and listening for information and ideas that you care about—not making small talk in crowded rooms. Your deeper interests can help anchor you in any conversation. Try not to let networking stereotypes and imagery distract you.

Lesson Learned: Look for common ground with others. Shared interests are like magnets for networking. They tend to make discussions more engaging and useful, and they increase the chances of following up.

These lessons, while important, are limited in helping to pin down your professional interests and increase your comfort.  Below are some tips to get at these frequent concerns.

Hot Tip: Look inside before reaching out.  You’re probably busy at work and may resist this, but trust me. At least a few days before heading to an event that includes networking, set aside time to reflect on two key questions and then jot down your thoughts:

  • What do I hope to learn? (e.g., are there work challenges on which you could use advice?)
  • What do I have to share? (e.g., how might others learn & benefit from your work?)

You’ll have a clearer sense of purpose and will be primed to talk about and learn things that are more relevant and engaging.

Hot Tip:  Focus on what you enjoy. We’re most comfortable and confident when talking about things that interest us and “light us up”.  We know what that feels like away from work, but it’s also true professionally. Interest shows on our faces and in body language and people absolutely respond to it.  Conversations can feel almost effortless. So find what sparks you professionally and tap into it.

Hot Tip: Be ready to listen. Networking isn’t a competitive sport—it’s about give and take.  Engaging topics often emerge by chance, so ask questions, keep an ear out for connections and, above all, strive to be a good listener.

Two final thoughts: not every conversation will be golden and there isn’t a right way to network. It’s worth trying different things. Instead of crowded rooms, you might prefer connecting over breakfast, a cup of coffee, or in quiet hallway. Find what works for you and go with it.

Rad Resource: While there are plenty of networking resources out there, this NYTimes blog—An Introvert’s Guide to Networkingis worth a look.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

4 thoughts on “Networking for Introverts at Conferences…and elsewhere By Joshua Joseph”

  1. Pingback: Episode 8: #Eval – The Twittering – Eval Cafe

  2. You told me about this, Josh, when we talked about my interview with Dr. Vivek Murthy, the immediate past US Surgeon General, on his belief (that I too believe) that there is a loneliness epidemic. As someone in the meetings and hospitality industry, I thought about how meetings are either very lonely [check the poll that tho’ not scientific shows how many people ARE lonely at meetings] or a possible way to help cure loneliness. Here’s the link for you and others:

    And as I read what you said and reflected on my experiences attending and planning conferences, what I have learned is this: sessions and overall design are so bad that we don’t allow for nor do we promote unintentional as well as intentional ‘networking.’ (More in my blog if you read through.)

    Sessions are so tightly packed in at conferences and people’s noses are so close to their ‘devices’ btw sessions OR their needs for bio breaks are so great there is no time to talk about what they learned and observed in session. More, sessions are so tightly packed w/ speakers who are not facilitators of learning that they forget to involve the audience until “Q&A at the end” which makes me gag!

    I too am an Introvert and find crowds miserable. I’ve been known to go to ‘networking events’ (you know.. the places w/ inaccessible food, loud music, bad lighting excluding people with hearing or sight or mobility disabilities) hand-in-hand (literally) with a friend and to more often avoid them altogether.

    I want a reg fee at conferences (so I’m not considered a ‘lobby rat’, the term often used for vendors who don’t buy booths but sell in the lobby!) that allow me ONLY to hang out in the reg or other informal areas. Often the education is structured so I hate it and I’d rather problem solve w/ peers in informal settings.

    Why aren’t we making it better for all those at conferences? My life’s work has been devoted to this and still .. I wait for hotels and other facilities to be designed for easy mingling including appropriate seating in common areas; for conferences to insist that session leaders (ok…speakers!) built in time for sharing solutions and reflection; for people to be asked how they best learn (using what they know or VARK, as one example) and a conference designed around real needs.

    Will I live long enough to see it?

    Thanks for writing this!

  3. Thank you Josh for these great ideas. I am not an introvert by any means, but your suggestions about thinking ahead of time about how to focus attention on your specific needs as well as contributions you can offer are really helpful!

    With appreciation…

    1. Robin, thanks for your note…wish I had seen it sooner but I forgot to sign up for notifications here and didn’t realize you’d posted. 🙂 Really glad to hear it was helpful. Cheers, Josh

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