The Introvert’s Guide to Successful Business Networking
Networking. It’s a bit of a dirty word for us introverts. And yet, it is key to any business, not only for business development but also to help generate overall growth. I can trace many of Struck’s business pivots from a connection made during professional networking. And yet networking can be daunting for those of us introverts, who are not naturally inclined toward small talk with strangers. In fact one of the key tell-tell signs that you are an introvert is that you feel depleted after spending time in a room full of strangers, i.e. a networking event.
So, how do I do it? Here are some of the strategies I’ve developed to get myself to practice this age-old business staples.
Before the event:
1. Relax: When preparing for a business networking event, I anticipate that it will take time to build relationships — the return on investment may be difficult to evaluate for quite a while. Somehow this takes the edge/pressure off for me. My goal is to get to know people.
2. Plan: Though I don’t expect to “sell”, I still establish clear, measurable goals for my networking activity and then evaluate success against those goals on a regular basis. Time and money are limited, so it is vital to find ways to optimize both. I’ve found that the clearer I am about the purpose and the kind of people I’d like to meet, the more effective I am.
3. Get to know people before you get there: Target people who will be helpful to you. If possible ask for a list of attendees and do a little research prior to the event to identify the people you’d like to meet and get to know them before the event. Reading about people before I meet them gives me a welcome sense of familiarity by the time I meet them, which is a good thing for an introvert. Trust me on this.
When you get there:
4. Have an icebreaker: Icebreakers are also very important for introverts, so be prepared with a couple of go-to conversational pieces that work for you. I often ask if others are enjoying the event and if they have learned something interesting in the course of the day. At heart, I am a learner, so that’s an ice breaker that’s genuine for me. I’m always interested in learning more.
5. Be curious: When you do meet these people, be yourself and friendly. Do not get straight to business, but instead try to know them as people first. If you do this with genuine curiosity it will be much more pleasant for everyone involved.
6. Don’t get too personal: Ask them questions, but avoid getting too personal, such as asking someone if they have kids or dogs. You don’t want to walk into an emotional topic. I would recommend turning to business questions about 3–5 minutes into the conversation.
7. Get into their business: One of my favorite questions to ask is: “What business problem is keeping you up at night right now?” This will provide insight into how you can help. You may not be able to help them directly but you may think of a book you just read that is relevant, or a connection you have that may be able to offer-up.
8. Always ask for a business card, and always give yours. I know it’s old fashioned but it guarantees that you will be able to stay connected.
9. Leave when you are ready: Be good to yourself, go ahead and give yourself permission to leave the event as soon as you’ve “reached your limit.” I usually get a physical sensation, like I am intensely tired or cold for instance. That’s when I know it’s time to go.
After the event:
10. Resource: As an introvert I know my limit. I know that I will need time alone. Make sure you allow for plenty of alone time after a networking event.
11. Follow-up: Follow-up in a genuine manner — make it short, personal and to the point. It is best if you are offering some kind of resource connected to their business problem.
12. Stay connected: Don’t over follow-up via email. Connect with them on LinkedIn and twitter and reconnect occasionally, especially if you see something relevant to the conversation you had. Lunch or coffee or drinks is always appropriate as well, but understand it takes commitment to find time on the calendar.
So that’s how I cope. A mixture of curiosity, authenticity, deep listening and some preparation. But more importantly I’ve learned to just enjoy myself. Which is quite an accomplishment for an introvert. Now, I almost look forward to networking.