If I had a dime for every time someone was surprised that I’m an introvert, I would be retired on an island somewhere instead of hanging out here with you impressive people. On the outside, I’m the kind of person who smiles brightly, seems eager to meet new people, and carries on conversations with nearly anyone. On the inside, I’m anxious and exhausted in these situations.
Depending on which study you look at, one-third to one-half of Americans report being introverts. You might be surprised by this statistic because so many people (like me!) pretend to be extroverted. As with almost anything, being an introvert isn’t black and white and won’t be the same for everyone.
I put the energy and courage into networking because having a fantastic network is a powerful business tool. Even if you run your business solo, you’ll eventually need advice, mentorship, feedback, partnership or investment. So whether you like it or not, you have to get out there and purposefully make connections with other people who will help you shatter your goals. I’m sharing some of my strongest strategies to empower you to create an incredible network.
1. Play to your strengths
If you don’t want to attend some structured networking event where people swap business cards over cocktails, then don’t. You can absolutely network by inviting someone for coffee, having a small group out for dinner or make connections online. Some of the most amazing people that I know are people that I haven’t met in person. Only knowing them virtually doesn’t impact the connection that we have or the support that I receive from them.
2. Get your stalking on
I’m not suggesting that you should hang out in their bushes but it is a great idea to do some research to see what you can learn about people that you are going to meet. This helps you to prepare something to talk about (more on this in a moment) and see if you have anything in common. Luckily in this digital age, most people have some sort of presence on social media so you can usually find information about people without going through their trash cans.
3. Prepare to fill the void
A strategy that has served me well over and over is having a list of topics in my head that I can talk to people about. Recently, I was attending a meeting with some high level executives. I expected there to be a large group and to not be given much of a chance to talk. Much to my surprise, once I got there only five people were there. Quickly awkward silenced filled the room. I jumped in with some of my prepared topics and had a great conversation with the entire group. Not only did I save the meeting from being horrible but I shined in the moment. Some of my go-to topics are:
- The weather (always an easy topic of conversation).
- If anyone traveled in (even just driving across town), you could find out how their trip was.
- Discuss the venue – if you are at a restaurant you can talk about the food, if you are at a hotel, you can discuss the decor or the vibe.
- If the person has been in their industry or role for a while, I love to ask people what changes they have seen since they started.
- You can ask them how they got into their industry or role.
- People love to be asked questions about themselves so you could ask questions about family, where they live, hobbies, music, etc.
4. Check in
Creating a connection isn’t the end of networking. It is a starting point and you should continue to work on the relationship. Adding them on social media is a great way to keep them top of mind so that you can check in to see how they are doing, compliment recent achievements or to share interesting information.
4. Be real
People will absolutely be able to tell if you are just trying to use them to get ahead. Be genuine and be yourself. Don’t try to be something you aren’t and create honest-to-god relationships with people.