The networking introvert. Now there’s an oxymoron if I ever heard one. If you’re an introvert like I am – or just someone who hates networking – you’ve come to the right place. Because while most introverts feel like networking is something they could never actually enjoy – my aim with this blog post is to show you that even if you’re not a raging extrovert, networking doesn’t have to be as bad as pulling teeth and can even be – gasp! – fun.
First of all, why don’t we stop using the word “networking” right here and now because let’s face it – nobody likes that word. I don’t know about you, but for me the word networking brings to mind an image of a highly awkward and forced conversation over really bad coffee in a cheesy hotel lounge. Not good. Instead, I’d like to suggest that we try using the word “connecting” in its place. After all, connecting is all that networking is when you really think about it. Connecting with people. Making new friends. Socializing. And letting people know what you do and how you help people. That’s it! So here’s five tips to get started connecting.
1) Get on Meetup.com (or attend your local connecting group)
Connecting is simply meeting new people. Do you have to be at a networking-specific event to meet new people? Absolutely not. You can meet people anywhere. However, being the introvert that I am, I’ve found that I just don’t tend to meet people while I’m out doing mundane daily activities like grocery shopping or getting a coffee at Starbucks. Attending events specifically for connecting with others has been hands down the easiest way for me to get out and meet new people. Who are the kinds of people who you most want to connect with? With Meetup.com, you can surround yourself with exactly those folks. And the other nice thing about Meetup is that you can do things you enjoy. For example, being a fan of craft beer, I enjoy very much meeting new people while trying new brews. Figuring out how to make meeting new people fun is the only way you’ll truly get motivated to get out and do it.
I also encourage you to look for groups local to your area that are about connecting. For example, in my city of Ann Arbor, Michigan we’re so lucky to have Engage, a group designed to help diversify your network through meaningful connections (music to my ears).
2) You’re not here to sell – you’re here to serve
For introverts, the idea of selling themselves (especially to complete strangers) is basically a total nightmare. I think the reason I personally hate “selling my services” so much is because it feels like forcing something on people who have no interest. Who would want to do that after all? However, with a slight change in mindset, this becomes much easier. And the change is this: you’re not selling yourself. You’re sharing your desire to find the people whom you can help. Whatever it is you do, there is a group of people out there who desperately want and need your services – and it’s your goal to find them. So tell people what you do and who you can help and remember that you’re not selling yourself. You’re seeking to serve.
3) Have some conversation material ready to go
For me, it’s the first two minutes of meeting someone that’s the most uncomfortable for my introverted side. Once we find something we have in common and the conversation starts flowing, I feel much better. One way to quickly get past this awkward initial phase is by having some good questions ready to go. They don’t have to be “where are you from?” or “is this your first time here?” (although those work perfectly well). You could also try “how did you get started doing what you do?” or “what do you love most about what you do?” – these will definitely get someone going. And you can always feel free to answer your own question after they finish, even if they don’t remember to say “how about you?” Remember, people love talking about themselves and good questions go a long way.
4) Only connect with people you like
So you’ve been out and you’ve met some people, and now you’re back home at your desk with a variety of business cards laid out on your desk. Oh gosh, now you have to email all these people right? Wrong. Only contact the people who you honestly would like to see again. Simple as that. Forcing yourself to get in touch with someone who you had no genuine connection with will lead you nowhere, that I promise you. Instead, just write to the people you like. Again, connecting with people in a way you truly enjoy is the only way you’ll stay motivated to keep it up.
5) Be nice to yourself
And by this mean I mean, know your limits. How often is feasible for you to get out and meet new people without getting totally burned out and completely hating it? Twice a week? Once a week? Once a month? Whatever it is, be nice to yourself and pace yourself. As introverts, we need to conserve our energy so that when we do manage to get out of our comfort zones and meet new people and share with the world what we do and how we help people – we really make the most of it.
Remember, in the end, networking is all about meeting new people, being social, making friends, and letting people know what it is you do. Once you stop thinking of it as forced conversation with strangers and instead think of it as opportunities to connect with new kindred spirits who over time will lead you to do more of what you love – that’s when you can start truly enjoying the process. Have fun!