My blog post topics are often inspired by conversations I have with colleagues and topics of interest to my clients. This month, one of my clients, an introvert, asked me how he can improve his ability to network. As an introvert myself, and as someone for whom networking certainly doesn’t come naturally, this is the advice I shared with him.
Choose wisely. I know people who are excited and energized by attending conferences, lunches, and other networking events. As an introvert, I find that I have limited energy to spend at such events (and limited willingness to attend). So before jumping in, ask yourself what your goals are for networking. Is it to meet new, random people? Is it to meet someone specific, either an individual or a type of colleague? Is it to extend your knowledge and connections in a given field or topic? Being thoughtful and purposeful in choosing networking opportunities can help you be efficient and effective with your networking time.
Find a comfort zone. Introverts might think that nothing about networking can seem comfortable. But I find there are approaches that work best for me. For example, I prefer one-on-one conversations or smaller groups to walking into a big group of people that I have never met. At one conference, I struck up a conversation with the person in line with me at the coffee shop that we continued for another hour. That setting seemed a little more organic and a little less intimidating than the standard “hundreds of people in a room” scenario. Consider which situations and environments put you more at ease, and take advantage of those opportunities.
Listen more, talk less. This advice is usually easy for introverts to adopt. Often we think that “connecting” means finding common ground and interests. But when I see others talking and interacting, the strongest interpersonal connections I see (and experience) are when someone really feels heard and listened to. Have a few general questions ready to start a conversation, like “What brings you to [this event]?”, and pay attention to where the conversation naturally goes. Ask open-ended questions that help you understand the person and what is important or meaningful to him or her. For example, “What about [XYZ] most interests you?”
Say “yes” more than “no.” I was at a conference a few years ago shooting a promotional video for my upcoming seminar. We finished right around noon, and my POC asked if I wanted to grab lunch with him and his colleagues. My first instinct was to politely decline – I had just spent the morning working and was in the mood for a break. But I also realized this was a great chance to meet some new people. I went to lunch and made four new connections, some of whom I’m still in touch with. Sometimes you need time alone to recharge and be fully present for the next event. But push yourself at least a little to take advantage of networking opportunities.
Be bold. Here’s where I’m going to ask fellow introverts to go out on a limb: don’t be afraid to approach someone new out of the blue. This seemed shocking (and inconceivable) to me until a few months ago when I went to a networking event, and someone I had never met walked right up to me and introduced herself. The logical part of me quickly realized, hey, that’s the point of networking events. I sincerely appreciated her effort and confidence, and we had a nice chat and exchanged business cards. Remind yourself that you are there for a reason, and you never know what opportunity might come from this conversation.
Networking can seem like a huge challenge for introverts; but making new connections is beneficial and worthwhile. Changing your approach to networking can make it less intimidating, more positive, and more productive.