1. Be the keeper of information.
One solution to fear of networking involves positioning yourself so people approach you for information, not the other way around. If you serve on a committee and your knowledge is important to its members, people will seek you out. Then it is easier for you to lead the conversation toward your career goals.
2. Join associations.
Join associations and serve on a committee so you have something in common with its members. That will make it easier for you to start a conversation with another member since you will have goals in common. Some of the best committees to serve on are program, membership, and public relations committees. You may also want to select a committee that will encourage you to move beyond your comfort zone and into a new skill set.
The best source for lists of associations in your area of interest is The Encyclopedia of Associations, a comprehensive source of detailed information on over 162,000 nonprofit membership organizations worldwide. The Encyclopedia of Associations database provides addresses and descriptions of professional societies, trade associations, labor unions, cultural and religious organizations, fan clubs, and other groups of all types. (Use the database and forget trying to buy it. Amazon sells the four-volume series for $2,040! If you want to use the physical books, use your public library.)
3. Become a regular.
Once you join an association, go to meetings regularly. It might take six months for people to start recognizing you and saying hello, so you may be uncomfortable when you first start attending, but just concentrate on what you are learning. It’s okay to be quiet in your first few meetings and, if you keep showing up, month after month, eventually you’re going to recognize other “regulars,” and you’ll feel generally more comfortable. You’ll soon be communicating without focusing on it.
4. Use your natural style.
Learn to use your natural style when you’re attending events so you don’t come off as fake. However, here is an important trick: try to attend events with an extroverted colleague who will involve you in conversations. You might even plan a strategy with your colleague before you go. For example, discuss whom you want to meet and how long you think you’ll feel comfortable holding a conversation. Your colleague can “professionally” interrupt you to introduce you to someone else when time’s up or you give a signal.
5. An introduction, plus!
Another strategy to use at events is to ask people you know not only to introduce you to others, but also to join the conversation until it gets rolling!
6. How to get the conversation started.
A major concern for introverts is how to keep the conversation going. If the person you are talking to is an extrovert, this will not be a problem. However, when talking to introverts, ask them about themselves. For example, ask them how they landed their current position, which may provide an important tip for your own search. You can also ask them about their careers—what projects they are currently working on, the pros and cons of the job, and so on. Ask about their families, what professional associations they belong to and why. Listen carefully for opportunities to help them—perhaps you can help them with something that will add to your skills or be an opportunity to network with others!
7. Turn networking into research or a puzzle to solve.
Think of gathering information as research, not networking!
Introverts tend to love solving puzzles, so we recommend that they look at networking events as a puzzle they are trying to solve—which pieces fit into their job search puzzle and how they fit together.
8. Use technology.
If you are uncomfortable using our suggestions for face-to-face networking, try social networks like LinkedIn or Twitter, which are also great for networking. The “people search” feature on LinkedIn can be used to reconnect with people you haven’t heard from in years. Another great aspect of Linkedin is its list of professional user groups that you can join to increase your networking contacts significantly. Twitter is also very helpful. You can do a Twitter search for a topic you’re interested in and start “following” people whose tweets you find interesting. Then you can visit their blogs, leave comments, and start conversations. If you get to know them well, you can then ask them to join your LinkedIn network. There are also live chats, podcast, and webinars available; although less interactive than the social networks, they provide an opportunity to gain professional knowledge, which will help you when you’re trying to start a conversation at face-to-face events.
9. Analyze your results.
Introverts who are intuitive and analytical can use these skills to determine what is working and what isn’t. The results can also be used to help determine where introverts can get the most bang for their buck (or effort).
10. Practice the art of networking.
Workingwith an executive coach or career counselor is very helpful. At Executive Leadership, LLC, we have seen a marked improvement with our clients as we coach them in the art of networking. Our networking practice is similar to the work we do in helping our clients to prepare for interviews.
11. Find someone who is alone.
You know there are many other people who hate to “work a room.” They are probably the ones standing alone, drink in hand, wishing the whole thing were over! Say hello. You may find a kindred spirit and maybe a new networking friend.
12. Don’t dominate one person with your conversation.
Introverts typically enjoy deep conversations, not small talk. If you do have the opportunity to get involved in a conversation with someone, make sure that you are mindful of his or her time and body language to know when it is time to move on. Most people attend networking events to circulate and touch base with several people, so be sure you don’t hold someone hostage by monopolizing all their time. Instead, have a short, memorable conversation, and then exchange business cards. Then make a note on the back of the person’s business card to remind you what you spoke about so it is easier to reconnect.
13. Do cool things.
Introverts typically don’t like to talk about themselves; we (yes, I’m highly introverted!) prefer to talk about ideas. Force yourself to discuss some of the things you’ve done. Don’t brag, and make sure they are relevant to the conversation. Doing this helps the extroverts to remember you and, what is more important they can discuss your traits and or your personality while they are passing along information about your achievements. Yes, I realize you would rather be accepted for just being you and not have to be measured by someone else’s milestone however, the truth is that the business world measures you by what you accomplish along with other criteria.
14. Help others.
Send leads to the jobseekers you know. You don’t have to talk to them, but they’ll remember the favor and view you as a friend. Try maintaining a list of specialized job sites that you can use to obtain job leads for friends who have recently lost jobs. They will be grateful for his help and the time it saves them.
15. Don’t spend too much time on networking.
If you wear yourself out, you won’t ever want to network. Accept your limitations and do just one or two events a month. It takes a long time to build these relationships, so it’s better to stick with a few groups over the long haul, versus wearing yourself out attending events for ten different groups in two months.
16. Find the “gatekeepers” in the network.
Don’t make it your goal to meet one person who can only introduce you to one other person or, worse yet, someone who doesn’t know anyone. Instead, network with a gatekeeper, someone who knows several people. If networking wears you out, you will be better off finding five gatekeepers, each of whom knows ten other people, than trying to find and maintain relationships with fifty people.
While this strategy may take a long time to unfold because it may be difficult to find these gatekeepers, the payoff is high. Two suggestions: look for introverts who are in jobs that force them to be well connected or extroverts who will share their connects with you.
17. Host an event.
By hosting a meeting, business event, or party, you can focus on the comfort and ease of your guests, rather than focusing on yourself. Be sure to serve food and drinks that are plentiful but that are also no-brainers so you are not trapped alone in the kitchen struggling with the food. For example, try bow-tie pasta with several different sauces, to which guests can help themselves, along with a glass of wine. For a meeting, try a salad for which guests can choose their own toppings and dressing.
18. Be sure to have a plan.
Be very clear about what you want to get from any interaction. Ask yourself: What is the ideal outcome for this interaction? How does it look? What are the specific things I want to happen?
19. Arrive early to events and meetings.
Make it a habit to arrive very early to events when only a few people have arrived. It is much easier to meet people when you arrive early verses if you arrive after the majority of the guest have arrived and have already formed groups where conversations have started.
Another advantage to arriving early is that you’ll have an opportunity to meet the people who organized the event, who are likely to be movers and shakers and to be able to introduce you to some of the other guests. Another tactic is to introduce other people to one another; it will take the pressure off you, and you can use “active listening skills” to join in the conversation.
20. Us your skills and knowledge
Focus on ways you can help others with your talents and skills. Being an introvert does not mean that you are not talented and skillful. On the contrary, you could be a valuable commodity to just the right person! The key here is to use those skills to help others while helping yourself. A great way to start is by writing down some questions that you can use in a conversation that would feature your skills. You can then use those very questions as you meet contacts to determine if there is a way you can assist them in reaching their goals. This will venture should benefit both of you.
Smiling not only makes you more approachable, but it’s also a psychological tool to make yourself feel better. You’ll feel more confident, and everyone will be able to see it!
22. Remember to breathe.
Chances are that, at some point, nerves or anxiety will kick in, especially in places that can feel overwhelming because of noise and activity. If you feel your heart rate kick up, take a deep breath to collect yourself and, if you need to, retreat to a quiet area for a few minutes. Being in highly active spaces can definitely be stressful, so be sure to take time for yourself, even if only for five minutes, to reenergize.
23. Make eye contact.
It can be a challenge to maintain eye contact. The natural human instinct is to avert your eyes when you feel uncomfortable. Keep reminding yourself to maintain focus on the person or group with whom you are interacting. While strong eye contact is definitely seen differently in some cultures, here in the United States not making eye contact can be interpreted as rudeness or boredom. (You can also use too much eye contact; try to stay on the sane side of Charles Manson.)
24. Hold something in your hand.
If you notice that you fidget a lot, try holding a cup of water, your conference booklet, or a pad of paper in your hands. This will keep your hands occupied and allow you to stay focused on the conversation. I do not recommend holding any type of phone, Blackberry, Droid, or i-touch or any other electronic device that would indicate that you’re waiting for something that’s more important than the person with whom you’re talking.
25. Forget your 30-second and 60-second elevator pitches.
You’ve probably been taught all about the elevator pitch, but that’s not how you introduce yourself! The reality is that you only have about six-seconds to introduce yourself! You need a good, short personal branding statement. Mine is: “Hi, I’m CB. My company, Executive Leadership, LLC, can help you become more successful.” If your personal branding statement is crisp and interesting, you will be invited to give your pitch.
26. Try public speaking!
Ironically, many introverts are great platform speakers and great performers. They tend to be more comfortable talking to a roomful of people than networking one-on-one. One of the key benefits of being a speaker is that people come to you for networking, so it’s easy to establish new relationships.
27. Don’t assume the worst.
Don’t think that you’re bothering people. Most people will be glad to hear from you, especially if you have something interesting to say or if a mutual friend or colleague introduces you.
28. Where do you start?
Start by relying on your supporters. Network first with mentors, close colleagues, and friends.
29. Make the most of what you know.
Take the time to read an industry newsletter before attending a business or social event or in preparation for an informational interview with a contact so you will be comfortable sharing the tidbits you have learned.
30. Remember “life is a cabaret, my friends!”
Relax and enjoy the journey.
One final point to remember: it’s been estimated that 90 percent of the CEOs in America are introverts! However, they have learned how to approach the world as though it is a giant stage—one where they can go on to act and get off to be themselves.
Copyright © 2011-2019 CB Bowman
May not be reproduced or quoted in part or in whole without written permission from the author. Contact CB Bowman @ firstname.lastname@example.org for permission.
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