Ok, I don’t know about you, but I hate Networking. Yeah. THERE! I said it! Out loud. It’s a very painful experience for me. If I hear one more well meaning person say: “Just do it! It’s easy & it’s fun!” I might have to put tape over their mouth. Pah-leeze! Sure, for social butterflies the event is just another avenue to talk and meet new people – it’s like Redbull for them.
I claim to be very shy, but no one believes me. I find that very funny. When have they seen me go up to a random person & start chatting away? After lots of introspection, here’s what I have found:
- I am an Introvert – what that means is I need to restore my energy levels through non group related activities. If you are overwhelmed by crowds, this may be you as well. It’s not shyness.
- I am VERY interested in everything that is going on because it provides me input to ideas or theories on topics that interest me, problems or challenges I am facing, or simply diversity – how other people approach things. Some may also call this ADD or ADHD, or simply ‘Shiny Ball Syndrome’, but to me, it’s information….input for later use. What are your preferences?
- I am an observer. Mainly for reasons stated above, but I enjoy discovering patterns, watching interactions, looking for clues. You cannot do that with someone who is talking AT you, or when you are always talking. I like to provide people with the best information. I cannot gather it or offer it if I don’t step back & pay attention. Do you do that?
- Lastly, because I like to be well prepared and offer someone the best information, AND because there is SO MUCH swimming in my head at any given time, random calls or random people I don’t know, coming up to me to start a conversation where I don’t know the topic, is extremely challenging for me. It’s typically something I avoid. People close to me and good clients know, if they want an immediate response or personalized attention, the best way to do that is email me first. It gives me time to get my head in the game, if you know what I mean.
My momma’s mantra has been stuck in my head since I was maybe about 10: “It’s not what you know darlin’, it’s who you know that matters.”
Don’t tell her I said this, but, she IS right. Because Networking is an integral part to career development, relationship building, business building, and most importantly, personal development, it’s important to find ways to make this work for you. When I found the tools that made it work for me, my Networking success took off, because at the base of all of it, I am generally interested in people (specifically 1 on 1, or small groups of carefully selected people) and in building relationships with people. My Network is carefully selected and built. If you are in my network, consider yourself SPECIAL! I do not believe in numbers: quality trumps quantity any day!
- Target or identify some individuals to meet. When you sign up for events using such places as Eventbrite or Meetup, you will see an RSVP list which lists people by their title. You will select people who work in a field or company of interest, or randomly select if no titles are there. Meetup offers you the opportunity to see a little bit about them in the profile. Limit your selections to no more than 3-5 people. Just pick one the first time you’re trying this just to get comfortable with the process. Bonus tip: when you RSVP, make sure to enter you carefully crafted tagline or summary title. Make it hook people to want to ask you more about what you do. I will have examples for you in the next post.
- Research your selections on LinkedIn. Go to LinkedIn and check out your person’s background. You goal is to find conversation starters, things in common, as a way to connect and engage with them. Most people have a picture there; use that as a way to make it easier to find them. Make note cards or cheat sheets. I typically use Levenger PDA notebooks & products (no affiliation) because I am a huge note taker, and these allow me to later attach to business cards, or staple to the front of client files.
- Reach out & connect: Depending on the person, background, and what you are trying to achieve (you should have a goal or objective for everything you are setting out to do), reach out and connect with the person before the event. Let them get comfortable with you too – you never know, you may have found someone with the same networking frustrations as you. I have met many more people this way, and have ended up getting clients, people to interview, and business partners out the exchange. If you are in a job search – this is extremely helpful. You don’t have to use the dreaded – “I’m currently unemployed” description (more on this topic in a later post). It’s just about establishing the relationship.
- At the event: When you are at the event, walk into it knowing that you are on a seek and find mission, if you haven’t already setup a meeting location and time for your targeted online new acquaintances. This helps incredibly well in fighting networking overwhelm! (you know that feeling when you walk into the room: anxious, stomach in knots, sweaty, incompetent, forgetful, stressed…) You know who you’d like to meet, why, and are more comfortable in what you are going to say. Arranging to speak to your Keynote people first, helps you meet more people because they will introduce you to who they are around, and others come up to talk to you by association. Along with the fact you are much more relaxed and engaged in the event. This little thing goes a long way in successful networking. Make sure to use your card collection techniques (in a future post) to help you keep track of who you meet in addition to your Keynotes.
- After the event: Immediately after or as soon as possible after, connect with the people you met, and with the people whose cards you acquired. Let them know it was a pleasure meeting them, comment on something from the conversation, include anything you may have promised (links, articles, contacts, referrals etc). I have connect templates coming. You can feed these into your card reader, or find and connect on LinkedIn (preferred method. I even have a cool iphone app I use to transfer the card info to my LinkedIn. I will review this app for you in an upcoming post under Resources). The point here is to be the first one to reach out, and to make the contact easy for your connection to remember you. Bonus Tip: In LinkedIn, when you add a contact, make sure to add easily identifiable tags to help you better organize your contacts & reach out to them later. And make sure to stay in touch with people.
My networking experiences have been infinitely more successful using these tips! It helps before client calls, deal discussions, speaking events (gives me more information about who’s really in my audience), etc. It helps me combat networking overwhelm & anxiety, AND has completely stopped my bad habit of blaming myself for having something wrong with me because I can’t network!
There you have it! I find I am way more prepared, and in more control of my networking experience. These tips & techniques support my personality, enabling me to achieve my goals, and basically, setting me up for a more positive experience. It works so well for me, that I encourage my natural networker friends who simply enjoying the socializing of it all, to give this method a shot every now & then. To their surprise – it even works for them!
Once you start having some successes, you will feel way more comfortable with the process and will even find newer and better ways to network which support your individual style. Being shy, introverted, or different is no longer a shell or wall to hide behind! When you find the tools and methods that support your path to success, you will find you become infinitely more successful because you’ve given yourself back some control.
Go ahead! Put some fun and purpose into your Networking. And as always, if you have methods or tools that work for you, please share. If you still have challenges, add a comment. There’s more than one way to solve a problem.
The world needs Introverts! Rise to your status!