This post was first published on LinkedIn on 14 April 2016.
When you’re starting out as a freelancer, contractor or business owner, you need a way to get out there and let people know you exist.
One of the best ways to do this is by networking. While networking can be done both online and in person, for the purposes of this article, I want to focus on face-to-face networking.
Networking is a proven way to grow your contacts, build your influence, let people know who you are, and find like-minded others to connect and collaborate with – all the essential ingredients for business success. When networking is done effectively, everyone gains.
But how do you network if you are an introvert?
Introverts are known by their preference for peace and quiet, and one-on-one conversations with depth. They crave time alone to think, to create, to replenish their energy. When required to interact with many people at once, their energy levels plummet. By the end of an evening of meeting new people and making small talk, they can literally feel their cheeks and jaws aching from the effort.
So what do you do if you want to go to networking events, but don’t want the stress and anxiety of putting on a mask and pretending to be more enthusiastic and energetic than you really are?
The solution: Reinvent the way you network.
5 Ways to Reinvent the Way You Network
- Say yes, then work out how. When invited to an event that fits with your goals for your business, say yes first, even if the idea of talking to strangers about your business scares you. As Susan Jeffers recommends, feel the fear and do it anyway. Stretch your boundaries by showing up, even if (and especially if) you have a good excuse e.g. it’s too far away, you don’t like talking to strangers, you won’t know anyone there. When your goal of being visible is greater than your fear of having to talk to strangers, you are sending your inner critic a new and powerful message: that you’re taking yourself and your business seriously.
- Create your intentions in advance. Before you step into the room, decide how you want to present yourself for the next 2 hours, then make sure your body language, your tonality, and your words match this image of yourself. Think about how you want others to relate to you and how you want them to feel after their encounter with you. Most important of all, think about how you want to be of service to the people you will meet.
- Make it all about the other person. I personally find this to be the best antidote for networking anxiety. Anxiety stems from being overly self-focused. Will they like me? Does my outfit look alright? What if I have nothing to say? Take the focus and pressure off yourself by getting curious about the other person. This can include looking for ways to be helpful to your host. Instead of just turning up and participating, go early and ask the host: “Is there something I can help with?”
- Be present. A mistake people commonly make when chatting with someone is to fast-forward mentally to a question you want to ask, or a (hopefully) clever remark you want to add, while the other person is still speaking. Another common trap is letting the mind drift to something irrelevant. Be the exception. Listen actively, ask questions that show your curiosity and desire to know more about the other person and to understand them better. You have been given an opportunity to give someone the gift of your time and attention – who knows where it might lead? Make it count.
- Follow up. After the event, send an email or text message to the host to thank them for organizing the event. Tag your new contacts on social media (as appropriate) and say how much you enjoyed meeting them. If you would like to maintain the connection, follow them on social media, engage with their posts, send a LinkedIn invite, or ask if they would like to have a coffee chat. If they say yes, make sure you schedule it in (most people are busy and will forget unless you actively nudge them) and follow through.
Being an introvert doesn’t mean staying home and limiting yourself to interacting in online forums. It just means noticing the way you prefer to communicate, and using that knowledge to devise practical ways that help you feel confident when meeting with people.
By following the 5 keys mentioned above, you will strengthen your ability to be a more switched-on version of yourself when needed, and with consistent practice, you will find networking events are no longer a source of stress, but proof that you can network on your own terms, and have fun while you’re at it.