If you’re shy or introverted and find yourself needing to do a lot of networking don’t despair – there’s hope. Contrary to what you might think, good networking isn’t about being the most outspoken or most charming or most energetic. In fact, good networking is about trust building and creating and maintaining relationships based on sincerity and authenticity. That’s the good news.
The other news (we won’t call it bad because it IS rewarding – even for the wall flowers) is that it does take some work. If you’re at a loss for where to being, we’ve got some suggestions:
Get Old School
Walking up to someone out of the blue to introduce yourself can be intimidating. And if you’re extra nervous it will show. Rather than expend all that energy on the “cold call,” find a person with a common connection and ask them to make an introduction for you. It may seem formal or something your granddad might suggest, but it’s effective and sometimes flattering to the person you’re approaching.
Event organizers at networking events serve this function well as do mentors or acquaintances in your field. But if you can’t find someone to make an intro, do a little Om chanting, or whatever you need to do, and put yourself out there. If you don’t try, it’s a missed chance – and those build up.
My, What Big Ears You Have
As an introvert, you’re likely a good listener. It’s a coping mechanism to keep from having to talk about yourself. But it’s also a genuine part of you. You make a much different (and still positive) impression when you start a conversation with someone and are able to make them feel understood and listened to. Don’t be the guy who’s nodding yes mechanically while his eyes are scanning the crowd. Ask thoughtful questions about what’s being shared. After all, networking is supposed to help you grow your business and the person you’re talking to can wind up being a really great asset.
Hey Big Talker
Then again, it’s bad form to rely 100% on the extroverts in the group to carry the conversation for you. Networking is about building genuine relationships. If you don’t share yourself, even in some small way, it will be difficult for people to get to know you. Chances are, you’ve got something to offer – so let people see who you are and what you’re about.
If you’re one of the people who really freeze up in new social situations, then memorize a couple of questions that you can ask AND that you feel comfortable answering. The person you’re speaking with is likely to wrap up by saying something like, “…and what about you?” These prepared questions give you a little space to answer a question you’ve put some thought into so that you can get more comfortable as the conversation deepens.
Compliments Versus Advice
It’s always nice, at the end of a conversation, to think about what you’re taking away, what you’ve learned, and what your impressions are. If there is anything positive or exciting that comes from this quick assessment, then share it. People appreciate being appreciated. They’ll remember you – in a good way.
If you want to be remembered in a bad way, then throw out some unsolicited advice. “Sounds like you need a stronger team,” or “Have you thought about….” are a fast track to annoying the person you’re talking to. It’s natural in many ways. Your brain is telling you that you’re being helpful and showing your problem solving skills. But it can be taken as one-upmanship or just downright disrespect.
Look For Your Own Kind
Despite the sinking pit in your stomach, we’re sure you realize that you’re not alone when it comes to being shy. Everyone is nervous to one degree or another and everyone copes with it in some more or less positive way. One way to bolster your confidence is to scope out a buddy or two. Do you see anyone else who might be having a bit of a nervous breakdown? If so, then go and break the ice and once the ice is broken you’ve got a buddy to sit with or make the rounds with. This can simultaneously take the pressure off of you and help out a fellow introvert. Talk about the start of a genuine and deeply mutual relationship.
Network doesn’t have to be hell on earth. Think about when and how you are at your best and then look for the networking opportunities that set you up for success. A bar after work may or may not be your thing. Emailing ahead of time to prep someone to meet you or ask for a meeting may give you confidence. Whatever it is, make it work for you. Be yourself and the relationships will grow themselves.