Some people (myself included) want to turn and run the other way at the mere suggestion of networking. But on second thought, the idea of connection with other humans isn't so bad as long as it can be meaningful.
For introverts who dislike small talk the idea of networking becomes a lot less stressful if it can be seen as simply making an authentically human connection.
If you're in a situation where you feel you "ought to be networking", try focusing on having a great conversation with someone and don't worry so much about accumulating a fist-full of business cards.
Does the idea of introducing yourself to a stranger and talking about your career have you thinking about staying home instead? Well the good news is that email and social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook Groups have made networking a lot easier and a lot less intimidating. You can reach out to people from the coziness of your couch, with your laptop on your knees and a bowl of cereal right next to you if you choose to.
To get started, make sure your LinkedIn profile and online presence are up to date, not only with your basic information and career title but also showcasing your past and present accomplishments. Knowing you have these online records of your work will make you more confident as you meet new people knowing that they may take a look later.
Try not to get overwhelmed when preparing to attend a “networking” event. Approach it with a specific goal in mind. Perhaps your goal is to meet and have quality conversations with one, two, or three people. Whatever your number is, make sure to build a quality connection by being yourself and showing genuine interest in the other person. Be sure to get their contact information! You’ve met someone, you’ve connected with them during the conversation, and you can very naturally say that you’d like to continue the conversation and ask for their contact information.
To help yourself feel even more at ease, prepare for your conversations with some previously prepared questions. An easy question to break the ice is asking someone what aspect of their role they enjoy the most. You could also ask what type of projects they are working on right now.
Try not to worry if your first question or two fall flat or get short responses. Open ended questions work best. The point is to ask a question that will put them at ease enough to speak for a while as you listen. People usually don’t mind talking about themselves when someone is truly listening. It’s human nature. As an introvert you might prefer to listen anyway. So all you need to do is get the conversation started so you can employ your listening skills and be present and connected. Asking sincere questions and showing genuine interest while being a good listener is truly one of the fastest and most meaningful ways to gain someone’s trust.
After you’ve asked some questions and the other person has answered, they will likely want to know about you, too! This is important so that the other person doesn’t feel over-exposed by a one-sided conversation. For all you know they may be feeling as nervous, vulnerable, or anxious as you are.
It all comes down to controlling what you can and letting go of the outcome. You can’t control whether the person you strike up a conversation with will turn into a meaningful contact in the future. But you can control how you approach the encounter. Visualize yourself being open, approachable, confident, professional, warm, and disarming.
Now that you’ve had a meaningful conversation with one or two people, make sure to follow up! Connect with them on LinkedIn or send a short, friendly email indicating that you enjoyed meeting them and would really like to stay in touch and continue the conversation in the future.
You did it! Consider this good practice. Invite a different person or colleague to lunch each week. Practice your “networking” skills while building your circle. It is very likely that increased interaction will expose you to new opportunities and connections you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
Redefine networking into something that works for you. Ditch the small talk and endeavor to create one or two real connections each time. Over time you’ll be amazed at all your authentic connections. Make them count by making them real….one at a time.
As an introvert herself with over 20 years in executive leadership positions, Stefanie recognizes the importance of knowing and utilizing your natural strengths to make a difference while staying true to your authentic self.
You can find her at www.LeadWithConfidence.com supporting quiet leaders from diverse industries. As a certified Myers Briggs (MBTI) Facilitator Stefanie specializes in working directly with leaders to identify and leverage their strengths.
Click the link below to access the 6-part series of '40 Proven Strategies for Introverts to Lead with Confidence'. Download it here: bit.ly/lwc2016guide