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Hate Schmoozing? A Former Googler Swears by These Tactics to Survive Networking Events

How introverts can make networking at large events and conference less anxiety-inducing.

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BY Betsy Mikel - 10 Oct 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Is walking into a sea of strangers and striking up a conversation your idea of a good time? For anyone who considers themselves an introvert, this scenario is downright anxiety-inducing.

Hunter Walk is one of those people. The former Googler is a partner at Homebrew, a seed stage venture capital fund. It's his job to take meetings with and talk to entrepreneurs every single day.

So it may come as a surprise that Walk doesn't feel entirely comfortable at conferences and large events that require lots of micro-conversations with strangers. "I'm an introvert, and one who gets slightly anxious during prolonged exposure to large groups," he writes on his blog.

But, he's come up with a few tactics to deal. And he's sharing them so that fellow anxious introverts can benefit. Below are a few of the tactics Walk employs to survive attending day-long or multi-day events.

There's no prize for most business cards collected

When attending a major industry conference, it can feel mission critical to collect as many business cards as possible. Walk says this strategy simply just wore him out. It involved talking to far too many people and left him feeling exhausted. He's learned from experience that shaking more hands doesn't lead to more connections.

Instead, he aims for having longer, more in-depth with a smaller sample of people. "if I can have meaningful conversations with just five, 10, 15 people over the course of a day, that's a win," he writes. He describes this tactic as "depth, not breadth."

Walk also uses conferences as an opportunity to catch up with people in his network one-on-one -- and ideally this meeting happens away from the crowd. "I'll find someone I wanted to spend time with and we'll find a location to just sit and chat for 20-30 minutes before releasing back into the frenzy," he writes.

Don't flee at the first pang of discomfort

Inevitably your conversations may hit a lull. You start to feel a little uncomfortable. Watching a movie alone in your hotel room upstairs starts to feel like it'd be much better company than hanging in this massive meeting hall of strangers.

Walk has been there many times. This is the point where he forces himself to stay for just 30 minutes longer. If that I-need-to-get-out-of-here feeling is still lingering 30 minutes later, he'll go. "But often I'll end up hanging out much longer without even knowing it," Walk says.

Get away when you need to

While you may the need to attend every panel and happy hour to maximize your time, this isn't ideal for introverts. By definition, an introvert is someone who gets energy from spending time alone and feels drained by too much interactions. If you need to find some alone time to recharge, take it.

Walk says he looks for 30 to 60-minute windows where he can go for a stroll, duck out for a coffee or squeeze in some solo exercise. This might mean he misses some key conference content, but it also means he's able to come back refreshed.

Oftentimes, Walk opts for skipping conferences entirely.

In the past, he felt like he had to be extremely active on the conference circuit and attend every single one. Now, he tries to spend his time more strategically. As an investor, it makes more sense for him to meet with companies in his portfolio instead of traipse around conferences year-round. "Investing is generally about being self-aware enough to run your own playbook and pushing yourself when you need to, but not being all things to all people," he says.