Networking tips for introverts
A few days ago, a journalist from a major newspaper asked me to put together some tips for introverts who want to network more effectively. I’ve helped lots of journalists over the years but tend to find that I’ll write maybe 800 words and they’ll quote about 80 words! So I thought I’d share some tips with you directly.
- Understand that networking matters for career success. I always say to clients that networking is probably the single most important skill that no one ever teaches you formally. You don’t get taught to do it at school or university or when you train for your particular occupation. Yet it matters. For example, a survey in the UK found that 22 per cent of people said that they had found their jobs through word of mouth, referral or recommendation from someone who knew someone.
- Understand that networking has perhaps three main components: 1) meeting new people, 2) renewing existing relationships and reminding people that you exist and 3) asking people for advice or help occasionally. The bit that people find most difficult is often the meeting new people bit.
So what if you have to go to a networking event such as a conference or seminar where you’re faced with a roomful of people, all seemingly in deep conversation with each other?
- Set yourself a manageable goal. The truth is that lots of people don’t enjoy networking. So give yourself a break and set a reasonable goal. That may be to strike up conversations with just 3 or 4 people. Once you’ve done that, congratulate yourself and feel free to go home (or back to the office). Next time, aim to chat to say 5 people. The time after that: 8 people. And so on. Take it one step at a time.
- Approach people standing on their own. It’s tough to break into groups of people who seem to be getting on well together. So if networking doesn’t come to you naturally, head for people who are on their own – they would probably welcome the conversation. Start with an innocuous, open question such as “How are you finding things so far today?” or “So what was your interest in attending today?”
- At least appear approachable. If you’re standing by yourself, at least make eye contact with people nearby and put a smile on your face. That way, you make it more likely that someone may come to you for a chat.
- To boost your confidence, remember The Confidence Con – or take a look at Chapter 1 of How To Stand Out.
- Aim to have genuine rather than useful conversations. Some networkers can meet dozens of people and convert them all into useful contacts, but that’s not really the case for most people. I would say that the majority of people are at least a little reluctant and anxious about the prospect of talking to people they don’t know. I often say to clients that they should aim to engage in netfriending rather than networking. Rather than aiming to meet people and identify so-called useful contacts and decision-makers, try instead to meet people that you could potentially turn into friends. Simply chat to people and try to spot anyone you like enough that you would consider meeting them in a purely social setting. If you can come away with just one or two potential friends from an event, then the work benefits may flow quite naturally at a later stage in your friendship.
Finally, a lot of would-be networkers worry that the conversation might dry up. Here are my top three tips:
- Remember that most people like talking about themselves. So prepare some open questions that encourage them to talk about their work, their passions, their hopes and issues. For example:
- “What are you enjoying at work at the moment?”
- “What kind of person would you most like to meet here today?”
- “What are the big issues or projects that you’re working on right now?”
- Prepare to talk about yourself too. But, for example, if someone asks you what you do for a living, don’t just answer in a single sentence “I’m an engineer” or “I’m a marketing executive.” Give an example of something you’re working on or did recently to illustrate your work, e.g. “I’m a marketing executive, so for example I’m currently working with social media consultants to build up our Twitter and Facebook presence. I’m spending a lot of time getting managers within the business to write content to share with customers and fans online.” Me personally, I’ll usually talk about the most recent conference speech I gave or workshop I ran.
- Don’t worry too much about pauses in the conversation. Even good friends sometimes find that they experience natural pauses in the conversation. Talking constantly is not a realistic aim. Accept that the occasional silence can provide a natural breather and give everybody involved the opportunity to think about what they should talk about next – or whether it might be time to move on!
What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with me? Let me know what you think!