I have written quite a few earlier posts regarding how to effectively build your network, but how do you network when you are an introvert? While extroverts typically flourish and are energized by networking events, most introverts loath the idea of having to “work a room”. From a borderline introvert/extrovert myself and running a business with an unusual model for the last ten years, I get it. So, what are the tactics for effective networking for introverts? Perhaps the following will help you settle in and start to enjoy the world of networking.
Strategy & Research
With research under your belt and a sound strategy for the networking event, all of this is not as hard as it may seem. Start by reviewing the event ahead of time and take the time to identify people that you want to meet while at the event. Perhaps you can get an attendee list ahead of time and reach out to those individuals to let them know you will be attending. You may be surprised by their response and their great interest in seeing you. You might consider asking them to make a few introductions.
Get to the event early – very early. Take the time to settle in so you are not rushing into the event. As you get to the registration table, scan the name tags to see if you recognize anyone you already know. Then, you can seek them out! Bring a friend or colleague to the event and ideally one who is an extrovert who will make a lot of introductions and bring you into conversations.
Have a plan for what you are going to say when you are asked questions – such as, what brought you here or what do you do? Have your response practiced, captivating and at the ready. If there are exhibit tables, browse the area and use that as a platform to start a conversation. People love to talk about themselves, so ask a lot of questions. Before you know it, you will find yourself past that awkward silence and into in a conversation. Most importantly, have confidence. Some statistics suggest that almost half of us are introverts. Who knew! So, you are not alone, don’t be shy and do step right up!
There are a lot of good qualities found in introverts that can be very helpful in networking. Introverts are often very good listeners and highly observant of their surroundings. They don’t know need to be in the limelight so will likely ask more thoughtful questions of the person they are speaking with. Introverts tend to also be more self-aware, so less likely to make social gaffes. With that said, introverts can inadvertently appear aloof, when in fact they are not! Whether you are an extrovert or introvert, I still believe that the following basic principles remain for building your network –
Finding the Right Forum
Just because everyone else seem to think that group, forum or conference is the place to network, does not necessarily mean it is the perfect fit for you. I have attended hundreds of “networking” events where I was told “it is the place to be”. In reality, it was a supreme waste of time! The event, forum or group must not only meet you short term objectives, but also your longer-term goals. Of course, in networking etiquette it not all about you, but you have to be smart with time and resources.
You want to swim in blue water and places that have original contacts and value. These places are where there or more of “them” and not hundreds of “you”. Otherwise, you will be in the same room, group or forum that the rest of your peers are working. Essentially it is a bunch of executives that are looking for the same thing you are – your next piece of business, next partnership, or your ideal CSuite, career path forward or independent directorship. Attending a conference where everyone else wants a board seat, does not bring much originality to your objective or long-term goals. One tiny tip and I know it may seem silly, but do not wear your name tag on the left; you must wear it on the right. Given that you shake someone’s hand with your right hand, remember – right hand, right arm, right up to your eyes.
Build a Base
The most effective network is built early and over time. It is something that is carefully nurtured and evolves. People primarily do business with people they know, like and want to help. Building a network takes time and intentional effort. It must be part of your daily activity, just as phone and emails seem to prevail in our way of communicating and building relationships. Ensure that you are establishing a way for this to be a two-way conversation – give and you will receive.
LinkedIn, BoardProspects and other similar online groups are viewed with mixed opinion by many. But, in my opinion these groups are not only effective, but absolutely necessary. If you are not on LinkedIn with a presence that drives value and thought leadership, you may as well not be networking at all. It is that valuable of a platform. Your presence should be professional and definitely not personal to include a professional picture and content that drives interest and value. As for Twitter, just as important – not personal or political, but truly a place where you drive professional thought leadership.
I vividly remember when LinkedIn first came into the marketplace back in my retained search days. My colleagues and I ran from LinkedIn like the plague. We did not want anyone to “connect” with us, we only wanted to connect with “them” on their terms. Interesting how now in current day, LinkedIn has made it so difficult for the executive search world with more companies using the tool directly to find their own talent and bypass search fees and long processes! LinkedIn is truly essential.
Have a Process
Tantamount to networking success is following up – not just when you need your network, but when your network needs you. For each and every conversation, meeting or interaction I have, I typically follow that discussion with an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. I always enter recipients email and send a personal note and never use an easy category (such as we did business together) or the automatically generated note. I also consider each and every request to connect and more often than not accept the invitation to connect. Once you are connected on LinkedIn, it is also easy to determine their Twitter handle and start following them there as well. This process, done day in and day out, has paid significant dividends to the growth of my firm, business and the future of my network.
Taking it one step further, rather than just asking or talking on social media, use thought leadership to share value with your network. This can be in blog posts, white papers and sharing of other thought leadership pieces already in the market. Many executives sponsor events and conferences just for the purpose of getting their company’s brand in the spotlight. I suggest taking it one step further and leveraging those sponsorships into speaking engagements. I recommend starting with moderating panels, participating as a panelist or facilitating workshop sessions. You will quickly become perceived as an expert in your field and others will want to network with you.
The etiquette in all of this is simple – treat others as you yourself would want to be treated. Return phone calls, online requests, emails and LinkedIn requests/messages promptly, just as you would like yours to be promptly responded to. Always be grateful and appreciative of those in your network. You must ensure that you give back to them. With great care and nurturing, I promise this will all pay off – now and well into the future.