Welcome to the Age of Networks. Transportation networks have redefined supply chains and mobile networks have broken the link between working and going to the office for millions of people. In the same way, professionals today can't succeed without networking.
Whether you have a traditional job without customer contact or you're a freelancer making your own rules, you're going to have to learn how to network. For extroverts who are energized by meeting new people, that's fantastic. For introverts, though, networking in person can be exhausting. If you find yourself avoiding events out of a horror of smiling and shaking hands, this compilation of networking hacks is for you.
Online social networks have become great equalizers, allowing introverts to build vast networks without actually meeting anyone in person. That strategy is limited, though, and cuts off too many potential connections. True relationships develop through a combination of online and offline networking. Making connections digitally is a specialized skill all its own. This list is all about life in analog.
Getting Comfortable with Making Contacts
Change how you think about being an introvert. Often people feel that being introverted is a weakness in a business setting, but it's not! Just think of it as just a different conversation style. Introverts tend to excel in one-on-one conversations and are great researchers when deciding the right networking events to attend. If you can, bring a familiar face from work as your "conference buddy." Take frequent breaks outside whenever you feel your stress level getting high. Like any other skill, making contacts takes practice and letting go of perfectionism. Anything worth doing is worth doing badly until you master the skill.
Make Yourself Go
Being thrown in at the deep end of the pool isn't always the best way to learn to swim. Introverts do better when they get their feet wet at smaller local events before wading into huge national events. Ironically, some introverts who avoid even talking to others in line at the grocery store have no problem going to huge conventions on topics they care about. People who share your business interests are out there, but you'll need some practice in meeting them. The good news is once you have made solid contacts, they can introduce you to others who share your interests.
What You Are Going to Say
“What am I going to say to them?” It's OK to get that question out of your system. Humans have been speaking to each other for thousands of years.Somehow, they've never run out of things to say, but they do tend to reuse and recycle the same phrases. Start with open-ended questions like “Are you having trouble getting on WiFi?” Everyone is having trouble getting on WiFi, but most people will be flattered to demonstrate how helpful and intelligent they are. Seek out websites that can suggest “ice-breakers” and conversation starters.
Apps for Networking
In the new mobile world, work life and your personal life aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. It's common for professionals to use apps like Meetup or Eventbrite to find nearby events devoted to their specific interests. There is also a host of nearby discovery apps to help you connect on the fly. Use these to pursue your interests while simultaneously building a professional network and generating leads.
Following Up the Right Way
Even though it can be difficult for introverts to meet new people, they often let those efforts go to waste by not converting their meetings into connections. Following up is the most important part of the networking process. Within a week of your meeting someone new, find something good to say about their blogs or social media posts. It's a great way to stay in touch in the online world where introverts are usually more comfortable.LinkedIn is a helpful tool in learning the art of the follow up. For example, LinkedIn can alert you when someone in your network has a special event like a promotion or anniversary. With networking, slow and steady wins the day, not a burst of activity. Do a little bit every day and you'll be networking like a pro in no time!