If the thought of mingling with a room full of strangers sends shivers down your spine, you’re not alone. Here’s some advice from Penquin’s MD, Veronica Wainstein, to help even the most timid soul network like a pro.
An introvert’s worst nightmare. . . networking *rolls eyes*.
Just the mere thought of having to network sends shivers down my spine. I’ve come to realise, however, that I really am an introvert – a concept that escaped me for most of my life growing up.
The biggest misconception is that introverts are shy, reclusive and unengaging.
This cannot be farther from the truth. In fact, we’re quite the opposite. I have a very active social life, love interacting with people I know and am confident in most situations, including confrontations or challenging ones. What separates introverts from extroverts is that we don’t crave the interaction. In fact, we hit our ‘people limit’ frequently and crave the comfort of being in our own space.
Solace for introverts isn’t lonely, it’s cathartic and helps us rejuvenate our energy. We operate easily with and without people, and the without part is an absolute necessity to recharge our batteries.
So, if we’re good with social environments, meeting people and interacting frequently, then why would networking be such a problem? I’ve had to ask myself this countless times because, in my current role, networking is essential to business development.
The thing is, introverts don’t do small talk. We prefer deep and meaningful conversations that really add value, and talk to the heart of what drives people and their behaviour. So, a conversation that requires menial banter about who you are, what you do, where you’re from, how the weather is and what opinions are on current economic markets, sounds less appealing than Chinese water torture.
I’ve had to face this demon in the past year or so, and really learn the basics of how to network. Most importantly, I’ve had to learn how to not roll my eyes every time a stranger asks me, “So how are you finding business in this tough climate?”
My business coach from 7 Stage Advisors has been pivotal in helping me learn the best ways to network, and I’ve started applying his insights. Naturally, practice makes perfect, but these simple tips are easily applied and have been really helpful for me.
Six tips to help you network like a pro
- Prep some conversation starters
Have three categories of relevant and topical discussion points you can talk about. It’s not critical to be an expert on the subject, just make sure it’s something current that you can easily banter about.
Try to start with the conversational pieces before diving into interrogations of the who, what and where. Most importantly, stay away from the taboos. No sex, politics or religion.
- Get in early
Not too early, we don’t want to seem overeager - but definitely not late. The people that are keen to network will get to an event 10 to 15 minutes early. Arriving late means that most will already be in groups and engaging, which makes approaching the conversation harder.
- Common Ground
As early on as possible, establish some common ground. Try to understand the other person's interests, so you can relate and add your own perspective.
Questions and listening are far more effective than speaking, so sometimes this means learning to be comfortable with some “dead air”. Trust that the silence will be filled and give the other person the opportunity to take the floor - this plays well into the ego.
- Talk shop
Once there’s a rapport going, get into the meat of it - after all, we aren’t networking to make friends, so ask the who, what and where. Again, questions are critical here, even if this isn’t an opportunity to sell, questions help establish pain points and the other person may actually help you uncover some insights that you can apply in your business.
Not all interactions are going to close a deal, so don’t go in with this as your only objective.
The purpose of networking isn’t to attach yourself to one person so that you can feel a sense of kinship, the idea is to engage with multiple people and establish a ‘network’. So, try to keep the conversation to no more than 10 minutes.
To leave the conversation however, you still need to remain polite. If you can see yourself meeting with the individual again, then a statement like, “I’d love to continue this conversation, could we get together for a cup of coffee some time?” is a great way to move on with a plan to re-engage. If this isn’t a convo worth continuing, then thank the person for the discussion, bid them good day and end on a light note. You can say something like, “I hope you enjoy the event, it was great meeting you. I’m going to circulate, but I’m sure I’ll see you again during the course of the day.”
- The trusty old business card
Even though we’re in the digital age, business cards are still essential to both positive and negative interactions. Your best asset for exiting a conversation is a swop of cards.
Make sure your cards are completely accessible. Fumbling to pull a card out of the black hole that is your handbag or laptop bag is clumsy and lacks conviction. Make sure you have plenty of cards available, you want to be dishing them out like candy because you never know who might call you at a later stage.
I hope some of these tips help you out. This isn’t a fool proof approach, but has definitely given me more confidence and, most importantly, tolerance for business networking.
I’d love to hear from you if you have methods that work for you – I can certainly use all the help I can get. Contact me by using the link below and let’s start a conversation.
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