Do you dread networking events? Wonder about what to say? Dislike small talk? Do you find there is something uncomfortable or possibly distasteful about the seemingly compulsory exchange of business cards?
Too often networking is reduced to a numbers game of how many business cards can be passed out in an hour. If you are looking for a different approach, one more in alignment with your own professional values, then this “introverts approach to networking” might be for you.
Introverts, you have the advantage. You don’t have to grandstand, shake fifty hands and talk about yourself. Instead, the objective is to develop new meaningful relationships. The best way to do that is to learn about what is really important to the people you are meeting and to discover ways that you can help. Help in this context is about finding ways that you can assist the people that you meet. Can you send them an article with useful information? Can you connect them with someone who can assist them? Can you offer them a valuable recommendation? Have they got a business challenge that you or someone you know might be able to help them with?
You are likely a much better listener than your extroverted colleague who can happily spend an entire evening talking your ear off about his/her latest pursuits.
Ask don’t tell
To learn about the people you are meeting and discover how you can be of assistance you just have to ask a few strategic open-ended questions and listen to the answers: How, what, where and why questions invite longer and more detailed answers. Prepare a few questions ahead of time and use your favorites over and over.
Here are some to try out:
• “How long have you been working with…”
• “What do you find most interesting in your work?”
Choose questions that will help you learn more about a person and their business. The best approach to networking is not to get good at talking about yourself but instead to focus on becoming the best listener around.
Follow up questions are also a great way of signaling your interest in the conversation. Once the conversation is rolling, keep it flowing with such questions or requests as “how interesting, could you tell me more about that?”
Once you ask your question the next step is to listen. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that listening is a passive activity. As long as you are asking questions and listening to the answers you are in control of the conversation and an active participant.
What’s the most important quantity or quality?
A conversation may continue for as long as you like. Try focusing on meeting just a few people and engaging in some interesting discussion. If you are new to networking and are uncomfortable approaching a large group of people then start up a conversation with someone who is on their own. Alternatively, attend with a colleague, and circulate about the room together.
Watch your conversation partner for cues that it is time to end the conversation. Some people value moving about the room more than others.
Closing a conversation
When it is time to end the discussion just repeat the person’s name, make a reference to what you learned from the discussion, and exchange business cards:
“Eliza, I have really enjoyed speaking with you today. Thanks for telling me about your work at the bank. May I have your business card so that I can email you that article?”
If you are on Linked In you can ask them if they use Linked In and if so, let them know you will send them a connection request when you return to your office.
Relationships develop over time. Finding the opening for meaningful follow-up is the crucial first step. The “ask don’t tell” approach allows you to uncover meaningful reasons for following up. Sometimes you will find the follow-up is simply to continue the conversation over lunch or coffee. Other times it is to send an email or to introduce the person to someone you know. Uncovering the follow up allows you to continue building the relationship with people who you are interested in getting to know.