Even Introverts Can Excel at Networking by Following These Steps
Networking builds businesses. It brings in clients and partners and helps businesses grow, but networking can be intimidating and seem overwhelming. I understand that because I'm an introvert. Fortunately, that hasn't prevented me from creating my own network. You don't have to be an extrovert to use social sites, attend networking events or pursue professional opportunities to connect with others. Introverts don't have to be shy.
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Debunking networking myths
Networking has a bad rap. People are hindered by awkward networking moments, misconceptions about networking and its benefits, as well as their own self-protective barriers. Here are five networking myths that need to be debunked before you can rewrite your own networking narrative:
1. Networking has not been effective. It's easy to dismiss its benefits when you don't see immediate results from networking. People become discouraged when they don't make any "useful" contacts at an event. What they don't understand is that one meaningful connection can translate into a valuable contact. There might be many people at an event, but the right connection, even if it's not the connection you had anticipated, might prevent you from making a wrong decision or help you accomplish a task that you couldn't have achieved otherwise. Networking might not appear how you expect, but that doesn't mean it's not effective.
2. Networking is only for salespeople. Early in my career, I noticed that people didn't like salespeople. Most everyone has a natural disdain for cold pitches and direct sales. As an introvert, I realized the value expanding my network. Years later, I understand that cold pitches and direct pitches do not constitute networking. You can make connections and conversations without selling anything.
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3. Networking wastes time. Networking takes time. That doesn't mean it wastes it. It's an investment of time, and like any investment, it produces over time. Be wise and focused about how you allocate your networking resources, both time and money. Attend events where you're most likely to make the connections that will help your business. If you're a chef, choose events that focus on cooking. If you're a techie, concentrate on forums relevant to your niche. Think about the kind of connections you'd like to make and be strategic about finding the networking opportunities that will provide the most value for your time.
4. I cannot be a good networker. This is where most introverts bog themselves down. Networking doesn't feel natural. We shield ourselves from socially awkward situations by creating a protective barrier of dismissal. If networking is just "not your thing," you can justify retreating into your cocoon by dismissing it as over-rated and irrelevant. The problem is that networking is neither over-rated or irrelevant. Not even for introverts.
5. Networking is a dirty business. Some people associate networking with schmoozing and moving up the political or corporate ladder. They prefer to take the moral high ground and avoid networking for professional gain. In Networking Is a Dirty Business, Maryam Kouchaki, assistant professor of management and organization at Kellogg School of Management, uses research to show how people who associate networking with greed and selfish ambition tend to see it as a moral contaminate. They avoid it like the plague. The truth is that networking isn't schmoozing. Good business is reciprocal, and networking facilitates good business.
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The "three C's" that change the networking narrative
The three C's of networking -- Conversation, Connection and Collaboration -- create a context that helps even those most reticent about networking move past these myths and into networking relationships that open opportunities and grow their business.
Be ready to engage. Look professional, dress appropriately for the event and relax. You are not schmoozing. Smile and be approachable. A friendly, confident demeanor is attractive. Non-verbal communication is a pre-cursor to verbal communication so make sure you're not sitting in a dark corner or hiding behind your drink with your shoulders humped into your phone. Eye contact, a smile and a firm but warm handshake are all strong non-verbal cues that invite conversation.
Initiate dialogue with simple, non-personal questions like "who catered the event?" to open the conversation space. Be open, show interest in those you're talking to and offer genuine compliments. Have your 30-second elevator speech ready but deliver it naturally and conversationally. You want to provide compelling information about what you do and be prepared to answer questions, but you also want to listen and engage in a way that facilitates establishing a real human connection.
Networking events aren't card collecting events. The goal is making personal connections. Developing one quality personal connection trumps collecting a short stack of business cards. In his book Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships, Andrew Sobel explains how quality connections always win over quantity. A good connection can translate into a good contact. It pays to be selective. Figure out what connections are most relevant to your passions and talents. Develop a list of a "significant few" professional contacts and nurture those relationships by contacting them regularly. Create a secondary list of those you might contact in the future. Then, add all of your connections to your social network and look for ways to engage them on an ongoing basis.
Make emotional connections. Ask questions that invoke thought. Mark Zuckerberg states that you should learn to start where you are. Whether imagined or real, believe that people like you and the world is ready to receive you. Part of making connections is helping people. When you meet people, pay attention to what they say to see if they have a problem you can help solve. Always be generous and willing to help.
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Collaboration is a human dynamic that even introverts can take part in. Networking is collaborative. People need your help, and you need theirs. Don't be afraid to offer that help or shy about asking for a favor. You can help people, and they can help you. Leave your comfort zone. Be willing to mix and listen, and to introduce yourself and ask questions. Relationships and careers are built through collaboration.
Collaboration means working with people and organizations. Concentrate on building a network that adds value to your organization and enables you to improve and grow your reputation. Establish networks both with individuals and organizations, so you can maintain a connection with an organization even after individual connections leave a company. Collaboration expands your personal network.
Networking is human, and introvert or extrovert, we're all human. It allows us to help each other, work together and grow along the way by conversing and connecting and collaborating. An old African proverb says it best: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others." Networking helps us get where we need to go ... together.