True confession time: I HATE networking. Almost as much as I hate telephones. Just ask my family and business colleagues. I resist the idea of networking, mostly because it feels really contrived and pointless. I go to an event, and come home exhausted and cranky afterwards, because of deafening noise levels, resisting tempting food I can’t eat because of my food sensitivities, and having to pay for expensive parking (or a long commute via public transportation).
What do you think of when you hear the word networking?
I envision being stuck in some windowless meeting room with a bunch of people I don’t know, milling around. Furthermore, I’ve got a “Hello, My Name Is…” sticker that no one can read stuck to my boob, er, jacket lapel. Painful – I would rather go get my teeth cleaned. At least my dental hygienist is genuine and cares about me and my teeth. She even remembers my dog’s name, and asks how my family is doing, and sincerely means it.
That’s the dark, unfriendly perception of networking, especially for us introverts. However, networking shouldn’t be a painful event to be endured. Most importantly, it should an ongoing, organic process of building relationships with people you actually might like and appreciate. Look at it this way—you want to make this a lifelong practice of meeting new friends who you can contribute to.
Here are 8 simple yet useful tips (especially for you introverts) to networking that will help you feel more comfortable and natural instead of fake:
- Focus on giving instead of getting. How can you serve or help someone out? Do you know someone that the person you are talking to should meet? Help make a connection! Share a great book or blog recommendation. This suggestion doesn’t have to relate to your business, and you don’t have to be an expert—just focus on give, give, give. Volunteer at an event or make a point of just meeting one new person and learning about them enough to share what you know or help them make a connection.
- Be present. You’ve seen a lot of people looking around when they are talking to the person right in front of them. We’ve all done this, don’t deny it—how does this make the other person feel about us? We don’t care, right? Be aware and stay present. For example, here’s a tip I got from a tip from a CIA agent about body language and the other person being present—look at the feet of the person you are talking to. Or your own feet. Are the other person’s feet pointed towards you, or away? Feet don’t lie. If we aren’t interested, and don’t want to be there, the feet will be pointed away towards where we want to be.
- Listen more than you talk. The most interesting people to talk to are the ones that really want to know about us.
- Think long term vs. short term. When you meet someone new who might be able to help you, don’t jump in with an immediate request for yourself. In other words, ask questions that will open up a genuine dialog. Maybe you will learn something that will help you to help them out—going back to #1—focus on giving.
- Do not overcommit or feel guilty. If you start going to a lot of conferences and networking events, you will meet a lot of people. It’s fine not to stay in touch with everybody. It’s ok to meet people and say hi and all that jazz, but you do not have to make a commitment to speak to them again or stay in touch. For instance, I make a goal of meeting only one or two new people at a networking event. First, I focus on quality rather than quantity. Secondly, by setting a reasonable goal, I can give myself permission to relax and have some fun instead of feeling overwhelmed by being in a mob of people.
- Be honest. Don’t make false promises or agree to do things just to be “nice” because you’re there with someone in person. For instance, if someone wants to go to coffee with you and you don’t want to do it, don’t say, “Oh sure, we should do that sometime.” Here’s what you say instead. “I really appreciate the offer, but my work schedule is full, and I don’t want to promise anything that’s not going to happen.” Kind, but truthful.
- Take action immediately. If you do agree to do something for some, take action immediately. If you’re going to make an email intro to someone, just whip out your smartphone and get it over with instead of waiting until you get home. Taking action right away is an awesome habit to build PLUS you won’t just pile up work to do when you get home or back to your office. I love using my CamCard app to snap pictures of business cards on the spot.
- Only go to things that excite you. Whether it’s parties, conferences, coffee dates, networking events – only say yes to the things that you really want to do. Your networking goal is to meet and bond with other like-minded people. I am getting really good at saying “no” if my heart and my gut tell me that the opportunity is not a good fit for me. Trust your inner radar!
There are many reasons to attend networking events. Above all, my reasons include meeting potential new customers, finding networking or referral partners and project collaborators. Most importantly—showing up and being visible in my community. Meanwhile, by focusing on these simple rules, I have found that more often than not, I can connect and help someone, and often experience getting useful help in return. It’s amazing how the universe works to support me and the work I do once I get out of my itty-bitty comfort zone.
P.s.—Still not convinced networking is worth all the time and agony? Read these books to help prep for networking marathons: