I attend many networking events. Some might call me a serial networker and some of the groups I belong to could be described as fairly hard-core networking forums. I teach people how to network and I present at networking meetings. I’ve also been involved at leadership level in leading and developing regional business networking groups.
So networking must come easy to me, right?
Well, no actually.
You see, I’m a raging introvert. The idea of talking to strangers has always been difficult for me and I find small talk and the over stimulus of a large group of people – whether in the room, or on the Zoom – quite exhausting. I am naturally shy and despite my opening paragraph, have often found it hard to talk about myself, certainly in the early days of my networking journey.
How then have I overcome this obvious disability?
Well, because I believe that introverts can be highly effective networkers. We just do it differently.
If we examine the extrovert, they are stimulated by the opportunity to talk to numbers of people. Easy rapport builders, verbal and communicative, they have no issues with striking up conversations, swapping details and quickly moving on to the next person… and the person after that. This energises them and they are good at it, generally speaking. It’s a great strategy for getting to know lots of people and growing your network.
Introverts don’t operate in the same way. When we engage, we engage fully, to the point it’s often difficult to break away from the conversation. We like engaging one-to-one. We want to know more and are happy to talk at length when we find rapport.
That deeper conversation plays to our strengths and may have laid the groundwork for a productive and lasting professional or business relationship. And the good news is, you don’t need lots and lots of these types of relationships. Having a smaller, more effective network is actually better for you than having hundreds of contacts.
So how can I help you, fellow introverts (and perhaps build understanding for you extroverts our there)?
Well let’s assume that you want to develop relationships in your profession, perhaps within the HE sector or even across sectors. And let’s imagine you are invited into the room or on the Zoom with a large group of people.
Here’s what you can do.
1. Go in with the mindset of seeking to help others. One of my networks has the philosophy of ‘givers gain’; that by seeking first to help others, we attract others who want to help us. No-one likes a taker, the sort of person who hoovers up opportunity. Ask instead, ‘how can I help you?’
2. Centre your conversations around the people you meet. As an introvert you are probably used to listening to other people and a simple ‘tell me about…’ opens up a rich dialogue. Be your usual, curious self and encourage others to talk first. Show them how great a listener you are.
3. Act like a host; bring others into breakout conversations. In my experience introverts are good at this, we can often spot people left out or on the fringes of a conversation. Welcome them in, ‘let’s hear from you Sarah, we’d love to hear about your role’. Act like a host not a visitor.
4. You may be asked to speak about yourself in larger group setting. Take this opportunity. Be your authentic, credible self and speak from the heart. People will buy into you because you are genuine and not putting on a ‘performance’.
5. Support and encourage others. On the zoom this is really easy. We have the chat bar and emoticons, so use these to show people you have listened and appreciate their contribution.
6. Approach people after the event. Congratulate them or pay them a compliment. You could say, ‘I really enjoyed your presentation’ or ‘you said something interesting about…’ and ask if it is worth a follow up. Set up a one to one, where you can have the kind of in-depth conversations that we introverts are energised by.
7. Connect others. Because you are a good listener and take time to reflect, you will also be good at spotting connections and things people have in common. Make some introductions if so. They will thank you for it.
8. Invite someone along with you to your next event. It makes it less daunting, and you can work as a team to spot opportunity. Compare notes after.
So there we have a number of strategies to help you network effectively and perhaps remove some fears or reservations about networking. Many people think networking is about schmoozing or selling but I hope that reframing this as a ‘giving’ activity will encourage you to network and develop a really powerful team of like-minded people around you.
Some of the best networkers and connectors I’ve seen have been introverted in nature.
You can be one too.