Thursday night 6pm “networking”. If your heart sinks when you see that entry in you diary, maybe you’re an introvert, like me. And maybe you hate networking. But you do it, because you ‘need’ to do it for business or career. (Or maybe you just haven’t tried out my City Conversations event yet!)
We have all read and heard so many times that networking is “good” for your career because it helps to raise your profile, keeps you in touch with trends in your sector, forges relationships, and you get fresh ideas and inspiration. This is true regardless of whether you work for a big corporate or you are a small business owner.
But what if you’re an introvert, like me? How do you learn to network? Is it possible to network AND enjoy it? What if you don’t want get noticed? What if the thought of networking puts knots in your stomach? What if you just don’t enjoy those big group interactions?
The stark truth is, if you want to get on in your career you need to get over the fear of networking. HOWEVER if you are an introvert like me, you’ll like these strategies on how to make networking less stressful AND more enjoyable.
- Networking is not just have to be about the big events. If you feel more comfortable building relationships in smaller groups, it is perfectly feasible to network with just one or two people over a coffee or lunch. But you have to make the effort to contact people and invite them for a coffee.
- Alternatively you can reach out to people and demonstrate your knowledge and experience through LinkedIn groups. Find the relevant groups to join, follow the discussions and reply to posts where appropriate. Be helpful, be friendly. People remember you for that.
- Don’t wait until you NEED to network e.g. facing redundancy – by then it’s too late.
- If you are attending a larger event such as a conference or user group meeting, advance preparation gives you more confidence.
- Find out who else is going to be attending the event – is there a LinkedIn group, is there an online delegate list, ask around in your firm or friends at other firms.
- Chat to people online in advance (Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn) to establish a relationship and look out for each other on the day.
- Research the other participants. What do you have in common? Have you followed a similar career path? Been to the same university? Crossed paths in other ways?
- Take a friend or a work colleague with you.
- If it seems that everybody is standing in groups talking, and you don’t know how to break into a conversation, stand just outside the circle. You’ll generally find that others will notice you’re there, and widen the circle to let you in.
- Listen to what’s being said. Nod, smile, and make a small comment at the right moments.
- Have some questions in mind: use open questions – for example “what did you think of the panel presentation today” “which speaker did you most enjoy” “what is your team working on at the moment”
- Remember you are NOT the only person feeling nervous or shy. There’ll be others just like you.
- If you see an article that might be helpful to somebody you met, pass it on. It never hurts to be helpful and I firmly believe that what goes around, comes around.
- If it is a work event, challenge yourself to talk to at least three people outside of your immediate team.
- Start out by attending smaller networking groups and attend regularly so that you to get to know people and have friendly faces each time as well as new ones. When you know a few people, ask them where else they network and try those groups too.
- If you have tried a networking group and hated it, don’t let it put you off all networking groups. Different groups have different ‘cultures’, try a few until you find one you like.
- Small talk ideas – “have you come far?” “is this your first time?” “how did you find out about this networking event“.
- Do what I did and create your own networking events! Fresh Air Networking and City Conversations.
And if you’re not an introvert but you see somebody at a networking event, standing to one side, or busy checking their email – do us introverts a favour. Strike up a conversation; bring us into the circle; get us involved. Thank you.
So yes it IS possible to be an introvert AND still enjoy networking. And like everything else in life, the more you practice, the easier it becomes.