Networking, whether in person or on social media is a critical part of the modern sales process. If you are a sales leader, you have probably realized that while your sales team is primarily staffed with extroverts who are energized by any opportunity to engage, they aren’t the only ones who need to be out networking.
Everyone on your team can benefit from our Connecting Your Way to New Business eBook as it provides some great strategies and tactics for better networking. BUT, for the introverts on your team, here are my top 11 tips to make networking a little less painful and a lot more effective.
1. Do your homework.
Find out what to expect and who will be there. The more you know about the situation before you arrive, the easier it is to navigate. Is it a sit-down meal? Will there be a presentation? Will you be expected to introduce yourself?
Look at pictures of prior events. How are people dressed? You will feel more comfortable if you are appropriately dressed for the group you are meeting. Don’t show up in a suit if they will be in jeans.
It might even be worth taking the time to research the board and members on LinkedIn and find out who they are. If there is someone you want to meet, send them a connection request with a note that lets them know you will be there and are looking forward to meeting them. They may actually come looking for you.
Anything you can do to make the experience more comfortable, the better.
2. Contact the organization’s leadership before you arrive.
In the Networking eBook, Alice suggests that if you have never been to the event, and you are not a natural networker, it is a good idea to ask someone to introduce you to others. That might seem like an uncomfortable thing to do, but you will be surprised at how happy people are to do it—if you ask ahead. You may not get such a positive response if you just show up and expect someone to show you around. So, take the time to make the call before the event. While that call may seem uncomfortable, it will be less uncomfortable than showing up to a room full of strangers.
3. Create a plan.
Introverts can usually network more successfully if they have specific people to talk to and tasks to complete. If you create a list of people you want to meet, it is more like a scavenger hunt than a free-for-all. Pick two or three people who you would like to meet and then make a point of finding them. Again, researching them and connecting with them on LinkedIn before the event might make that process easier.
Give yourself practical and useful goals. Don’t focus on collecting dozens of business cards. Focus on having a few meaningful conversations and getting introductions to other people or planning follow-up coffee with people that you want to continue the conversation with.
4. Brainstorm questions.
Think about what you would like to know about the people who are at the event. Start by thinking about the people you have decided you want to meet. Having some questions planned will make the conversation easier.
– What do you know about them?
– Why do you want to meet them?
– What would you like to know about them or their business?
– What do they see for their business or career in the next 5 years?
– What do they do when they aren’t working?
I know I am often at a loss for words when meeting new people, but having questions such as those makes the interaction easier.
5. Go with a fellow introvert.
Hate going alone? Then don’t! Find someone else who is uncomfortable with networking and go together. Share your goals for the event, and make sure you plan how you will work together to accomplish those goals. Help each other to interact with new people. Take the opportunity to introduce your partner to people at the event you already know. Using each other as support while networking with others is great, but don’t fall into the trap of using each other as an excuse not to interact with new people.
6. Look for people who are standing alone.
There are usually at least a few people who are as uncomfortable networking as I am. If someone is standing alone, I walk up to them and introduce myself. Sometimes it’s their first time, other times they are regulars, but just aren’t good at mingling. Chances are they are uncomfortable networking as well. In these kinds of situations, it would be a good time to use that list of questions you prewrote to start a conversation.
If they are regulars, they will usually be happy to introduce you to the people you want to meet. It gives them something to do. If not, maybe they will want to walk around with you and meet some other people.
7. Find an empty chair.
Rather than looking for people you might know, look for an empty chair where others are gathered. I always ask, “Maybe I join you?” People are quick to say “yes” and then include me in the conversation. Be sure to introduce yourself and ask each person about themselves and about their business. Once in a while, you may sit next to people who are so absorbed in their own conversations that they don’t notice you are there. It’s OK to get up and walk away at that point. They probably won’t notice, and someone else will surely be more welcoming.
8. Put something on your card that opens a conversation.
Business cards rarely help to start a conversation. Usually, the writing is too small to read, the company name doesn’t tell you what the company does and some have a missing or unhelpful title.
Make your card a conversation starter!
Consider a question that will get them talking or a tagline that gets them to ask a question. If the only thing they can think to say when they see your card is “What does your company do?” Then you need to add something more. I have a picture of myself on my card. Since I am not a realtor, people are interested and often comment on the photo.
9. When you meet new people, make an effort to look at them.
For an introvert, making eye contact can be difficult. After a while, I feel like I cannot look into one more person’s eyes. So, what else can you do? See if they are wearing something that you could comment about such as unique jewelry, a Rotary pin or perhaps a favorite sports team t-shirt (OK, not likely at most business functions). See if there is something that will open the conversation.
Be careful though, I have two embarrassing situations where I was really impressed by a sweater and a dress and didn’t look up to notice that I knew the person. Yes, introverts really do these things.
10. Think about topics to talk about.
What happens when you run out of things to say? For an extrovert, keeping a conversation going is easy. They are truly interested in the people around them: what they do, where they are from and their hobbies. Extroverts have a natural way of finding connections between themselves and others. Think about what interests you might share with others. Maybe you know common people or belong to common clubs. Maybe you both ski, or paint or love wine. Have a few topics handy that you feel comfortable sharing with others.
Below are some ideas for conversations:
– Did you go to such and such event?
– Have you read such and such book?
– Do you know so and so?
– What did you think of ….?
– Are you going to attend….?
– Could you tell me a little more about this group?
– What do you like most about it?
– How long have you been in….?
– What’s it like to….?
11. Make space for someone new.
People are funny about networking. They are there to meet new people, but they often get into groups with people they know and talk about things they already have in common. Breaking into a conversation like that can be difficult. When I am talking to someone, I try to make sure I leave space for someone to join us. If you make space, someone will take the opportunity. If your circle is closed, people can feel it.
Even though networking may not be an activity we introverts look forward to, we can still be very effective at it if we plan. Try a few of these ideas next time you have to go to a holiday party, conference or fundraiser. You may be surprised at how easy it is to meet new people and build relationships.