I’m an introvert. Some are surprised by this because I enjoy public speaking, I teach at the university level and my coaching profession is all about engaging with people. Being an introvert doesn’t mean I don’t like to interact with people- it means that too much engagement drains my energy. For example, networking at cocktail parties with a lot of strangers is exhausting.
The term networking brings up visions of meeting lots of new faces, engaging in conversation at parties and exchanging information, all in the interest of creating a broad base of new relationships that can be beneficial in our careers. For an introvert, this is more painful than a root canal.
That’s why I redefined networking for myself. If you’re an introvert, these tips may work for you. I’ll share how I now network in a way that is comfortable and effective.
Before we launch into the 10 tips, I want to share with you something new coming in 2017. It’s a new twist on an existing program, designed for those who like learning in community with other women and want more coaching once the learning program is over.
In January I’ll be offering the program Creating Your Career Opportunities: 3 Skills to Advance Your Career™ in a one day workshop setting. I’m keeping the group small – limited to 8 women – because we’ll focus on individual coaching and practice. If you’re a part of this group, you’ll then have the benefit of small group coaching and follow up. If you’d like to learn more about this program, contact Seminars@WomenLeadingTogether. Get a jump on your 2017 career goals by signing up for this program now!
10 Networking Tips for Introverts
Last year I was at a luncheon at a table with 9 women I didn’t know. They were all contacts that could lead to business opportunities. I knew I needed to “network” but was not in the frame of mind. I was tired. I’d been in the public eye a lot that week and had not taken time to restore my energy. But I pushed through.
I started engaging with my table mates. The conversation was stilted and didn’t feel authentic. I knew I was forcing it. I talked about topics relevant to my business and to women. It was all factual, yet didn’t feel right. I gave several women my business card, asked if I could contact them and got pleasant but not warm responses.
Contrast the above to what occurred several weeks later:
I started up a conversation with a woman at another luncheon. She was in career transition so I asked her about her experience. We found we had several connection points and the conversation went deeper. I found myself enjoying getting to know her. She was the only person with whom I spent any significant time at that luncheon. Other conversations were pleasant but simple small talk. I have since maintained contact with her, we have identified how we can support each other in our professions and have developed an ongoing relationship.
I started thinking about the best way for me to “network”. Networking is having conversations that may lead to subsequent relationships. For me, and for many introverts, that means getting to know fewer people well. For all of us, networking is about making connections. Not contacts…connections. There’s a difference.
Contacts are exchange of information. Connections are the beginning of a relationship. Connections spark by finding something in common. They develop as you come to know more about each other. Connections deepen with authenticity.
Here’s what I’ve found makes it easier for me as an introvert to network effectively and authentically.
Take the pressure off yourself. Don’t go into new situations thinking you MUST meet lots of new people. Just tell yourself you’re going to have conversations in a way that suits you.
Look for people who might interest you. If you’re at an event don’t force yourself to talk to the most gregarious person in the room. Look for those who strike you as interesting or with whom you have something in common. One of my good friends is someone I met at a very large event. I saw her standing by the side of the room looking as uncomfortable as I felt.
Have a deeper conversation with one or two people. In a large group setting, focus on getting to know one or two people. Spend more time in conversation with fewer people rather than roaming the room.
Focus on the other person. Often when networking we feel like we need to get our story across and do it quickly. Take the time to ask questions of the other person. Don’t force an objective. Let it evolve. As you get to know someone, you’ll become more comfortable talking about yourself.
Keep front of mind the one thing you’d like for someone to know about you. What is that one characteristic or key fact you’d like people to remember about you? If you’re the type of person who likes to think things through rather than come up with answers on the fly, it’s especially important that you have your one or two sentences prepared and practiced so they roll naturally off your lips.
Network in settings most comfortable to you. If you don’t like large rooms of strangers, go to smaller group events. Attend networking events that have more structure – speakers, lunches, programs that have a process to them. Schedule get to know you meetings. Limit your time at large events with lots of strangers. If you must attend, stay long enough to be visible to the one or two people that need to know you’re there.
Leverage the people you know. Get introductions from friends or colleagues to expand your network. Then pursue them in low key settings like over coffee or lunch.
Use online forums to network. You can expand your network online as well as in person. Use social media platforms that are private or industry specific. Pink Petro is an example of a private social media platform for women in the energy industry.
Use your most comfortable means of connection for follow up. Introverts can thrive developing the connection after the initial meeting. Follow up with an email. Send an article that may be of interest. Arrange to get together. Explore common ways you can support each other. Stay in contact.
Look for ways of supporting the people you meet. We’re often more comfortable helping others than asking things for ourselves. You need the skill of self-advocacy in business, which is a skill you can gain in my Creating Your Career Opportunities™ program. In networking, it’s ok to focus on how you can support others. Offer and provide support to their objectives. What goes around comes around. Someday you’ll see that support coming back at you in ways you never expected.
In all settings and circumstances be yourself. That’s who they want to know.
Women in the Workplace 2016: Don’t miss the latest report by McKinsey and LeanIn.org on the evolution (or lack thereof) of gender equality in corporate America.
Susan Hodge created Women Leading Together in order to provide seminars, workshops, and coaching circles to help career women move forward to create fulfilling careers. Visit our website at www.WomenLeadingTogether.com.