Whether you are in human resources, communications, sales, underemployed or unemployed, you will hear the mantra “Network, network, network!” over and over again. Introverts may recoil with fear and claim that this tactic is not a match for your personality type. More outgoing individuals will dismiss the idea as something that comes naturally to someone with an extraverted personality. You are both wrong. The one thing that is important no matter who you are or what is ticking in your brain is that social interaction with other people is a necessary part of life. Being a recluse or being a zealot are extremes on the sociability spectrum and most people really lie somewhere in between. Acknowledging your abilities and training them to make the best presentation of yourself is the only way to answer the cry to “Network, network, network!”
- Recognize the need to adapt your presentation to your particular personality type. Introversion is not a handicap, so if you self identify with this group it’s OK. In fact being an extravert can be obnoxious in certain circumstances, so if you are in this group you may have to dial back the enthusiasm since everyone is not like you. One trait of an introvert is that they are generally very good listeners and extraverts are natural talkers. Work these talents to your benefit.
- Like anything else that is important, planning is the key to successful networking. Simply accumulating large numbers of contacts is not the goal. Decide on the immediate and long term benefits of your network and allocate your time accordingly. Always say yes to any networking opportunity, but later sort out the priorities and place primary focus on mutually benefitting relationships.
- Online social networking platforms are a good way to break the ice. Initial contacts are not hard to make in social media and this is a good sandbox for determining the lasting value of a contact. Never make a first approach by leading with your needs, but talk in terms of the other person’s interests or dialog about a common sense of needs or values.
- Don’t overdo it. Conferences, meetings, association gatherings and meet-ups are valuable resources that may be uncomfortable for some people… if not you, perhaps for others. Remember that the objective is to form essential networking partnerships and not to alter your personality or anyone else’s.
- You are not alone, or at least you shouldn’t be. Attend networking events with someone else and compare notes before, during and after. If you must go alone, find a networking buddy early in the event timeline and work the room together. It is a confidence builder as well as a check on information being heard. Take turns introducing each other.
- You don’t have to be the center of attention. A large gathering is really composed of smaller groups. Looking around, you will usually see less than six individuals naturally forming into impromptu groups. Larger groupings make it more difficult to hear accurately or talk effectively, so be the steering wheel that splits larger groups or joins smaller ones.
- A good mindset to carry you through a networking event is to role play as the host. Greet everybody who joins and introduce people to each other. You will usually find that they will reciprocate and you will meet others without having to approach them.
- Body language counts. This is not just as a visible sign for others to see, but is beneficial for you as well. Studies show that practice in standing tall and making eye contact improves confidence as well as creating a visible sign of self assuredness to others. Smile as if your face will explode if you don’t let it out.
- Stand out. Avoid walls, especially corners, and gravitate toward the center of the room. Regardless of your everyday attire, dress to be seen without being outlandish. Trade bland socially camouflaged garb with something that has a splash of color.
- Conversation is not about you or what you know, so don’t go there. Ask questions about the other person’s opinion or impression on any available topic of mutual interest and never “one-up” them with a better story. Allow them to be impressed rather than trying to make them impressed.
- Whether virtual or live, make them want to come to you. If you are confident, personable and minimally not boring you are on track to forming a favorable first impression. Remember that you are not the only one looking for somebody to engage, so be engageable. Fish and be a fished.
- Remember the rule of mind over matter… and alcohol matters and they will mind. Meeting for a drink may be socially acceptable, but overindulgence leaves an entirely different brand message. Be the person that people will call later for information and advice, not the one they talk about afterward.
Networking is so essential to being successful that a one-size-fits-all plan will usually not work. You may need a conglomeration of many overlapping social networks to meet all of your needs. Personal, business, career and functional networks combine people’s talents into a total collaboration of thoughts and ideas.
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