Guest Blog from Rachel Cullis Dorsett of Carwright Communications
There is a misconception that introverts lack confidence. Not so but for introverts and shy people, normal business musts like networking and delivering presentations to packed meeting rooms can feel totally and firmly out of their comfort zone.
However, there are things you can do to mitigate the fears surrounding networking, which in my experience do work – and importantly enable introverts to get the most out of these events.
You are not alone
Even the word networking can be scary if you are a naturally shy or introverted person. If talking to strangers isn’t naturally in your comfort zone or you are feeling the pressure of winning new business and finding leads, then you are not alone. 50% of the room will be feeling exactly the same!
So, reframe networking in a way that works for you. Networking does work for introverts too.
First define your challenges? What are you most afraid of?
- Walking into a room full of strangers
- Imposter syndrome – I’m not good enough, interesting enough to be here.
- Breaking into conversations
- Working the room
- Extracting yourself from conversations
- The pressure to win new business
Walking into a room full of strangers.
Never easy but it becomes easier
- Arrive early. If you are the first person to arrive it takes the deep breath moment away from entering a room already buzzing with people.
- If you can’t arrive early, look for the person who is standing on their own or looking a bit lost and make a b-line for them. They will probably be grateful. Most people will be just as uncomfortable as you and if you are the one who approaches and breaks the ice it will give you a good advantage.
- Walk in with a colleague and a friend. Approach a group together and then when you feel more comfortable and are in the swing of the event separate. Never huddle in groups you know, or with colleagues as you may as well not be there.
- The important thing to remember is that networking is just another name for meeting new people and making friends and building your tribe. We have done it all of our lives – your first day at school to your first day at Uni. You networked then – you just framed it in your mind as something else!
Imposter syndrome – I’m not good enough or interesting enough to be here.
You are as interesting as everyone else in the room!
- You are a professional working on a really interesting project or with a diverse array of clients. Your sector knowledge is as good as anyone else’s and you have an interesting bird’s eye view of the business community where you work. I know this because introverted people are usually extremely conscientious! You have a place. Be confident.
- Have a couple of things to say, up your sleeve – if conversation dries up use them. Did you hear about…. scour the local paper beforehand for a story to reference; what’s in the national news and relevant?
- People talk about elevator pitches and having something ready. Don’t bother. Let it come naturally. You know what you do and you know how to do it. Don’t tie yourself in knots trying to remember the party line. Just converse naturally and be authentic.
- Ask open ended questions which get somebody really talking and do the same in return if somebody asks you a question.
- Listen! You actually don’t even need to do a lot of talking. Listening is the greatest compliment you can pay somebody… and they will repay you by thinking what an interesting person you are when they have left you. All you did was ask questions about them, be interested in them and LISTEN to what they have to say.
Breaking into conversations.
It’s networking, people expect you to join them
- Plan as much as you can in advance. Are there attendance lists you can look at before you arrive? Who would you really like to meet?
- If you are looking for somebody specific, ask the organiser to point them out for you and if possible, make an introduction for you.
- Offer the group a drink – a great ice-breaker.
- Don’t loiter at the edge of a group, waiting for somebody to invite you in. Chances are they are engrossed in conversation and you will just look and feel awkward. Break in with confidence. Hello, can I join you…… is a lovely way of getting in. Smile.
- If you are hosting – hello – I’m xx from xx – is everyone alright here? Can I get you anything? Then just embark on conversation – did you find the venue ok etc?
Working the room.
Set realistic expectations for you.
- Instead of worrying about working the room, find one really strong connection that you can bond with. One strong connection is a much better result than 10 brief encounters so take the pressure off yourself to collect as many business cards as possible. Quality not quantity.
- Disclaimer here – at the next event, don’t latch on to the same person because you had such a good time at the last one. Find the next ‘one’.
- People will remember you if you have been attentive and listened well, just as much as they will remember you if (as an extrovert) you have been a great raconteur. Don’t underestimate it – it’s our secret weapon!
- If you really want to push yourself to make as many introductions as possible, then set a realistic goal and have an exit and entrance strategy.
Extracting yourself from conversations.
The British are so polite – this is always a problem
- If you feel you are ready to move on and the natural conversation has dried up or you feel there is no common ground, then move on. Your time is just as important as everyone else’s so don’t feel you have to babysit people.
- Make a polite excuse – will you excuse me; I just have to …… get somebody a drink, help my colleague, make a phone call, nip to the toilet etc etc
- But don’t leave them hanging – end the meeting properly. ‘It’s been lovely talking to you, good luck with xyz. Can I take your business card? Would you mind if I got in touch with you again – it would be lovely to have a coffee to talk more about xyz…… etc
- Always have your business card within easy reach – so there are no awkward fumbles in the bottom of bags or purses. When you commit to leaving – you need to go with the least amount of drama!
The pressure to win new business.
Remove it from your mind! Simple
- See the event as an opportunity to make new friends, new business contacts and increase your personal network.
- Winning a piece of new business on the back of one networking event is unlikely. Not impossible but unlikely.
- Nobody likes the heavy sell so avoid it if you can. Be cleverer and more subtle in your approach – make friends first. Find out about their business challenges and reflect later on how you might be able to offer solutions or help. Get back in touch.
- Building trust and friendship is how you win new business.
- Demonstrating expertise is (in my view) secondary. People buy people first. They do business with their friends and people they like. This is your only goal. Make friends, make contacts. Impress with your professional expertise later.
- The most important thing to do is STAY IN TOUCH. When you have built a potential new contact at a networking event – it would be absolute idiocy not to get in touch afterwards and arrange to have a coffee – or meet up again at another event to continue the conversation. Becoming a part of their inner circle of business contacts is a sure-fire way of ensuring you are their first choice or recommendation when they are looking to hire or buy a new service.
Finally, enjoy your networking. It’s a huge part of the profession you have chosen to work in and as you become more confident with it – you will reap all rewards in your future career.