I cannot change whether you are an extrovert or an introvert – both will have their strengths and weakness – but hopefully I will give you a positive perspective on networking and its value to you and your life/career.
Potential Networking Scenarios…
Problem #1: The first step for you is usually the hardest part, not necessarily because approaching a stranger is difficult for you, but maybe because you value what others say as you wish for them to value what you have to say. There is a small amount of skepticism and fear that the other person will not reciprocate or understand the energy that you present to them. Maybe you feel weird that it takes you a bit longer to warm up to new people.
Solution #1: Understand this…networking is simple statistics and probability. The more people you say hello to, then the more successes you will have. Don’t think about the possible letdowns. Say hello to a person, ask an inquiring question or two (“have you been here before?” or “how are you enjoying the event so far?” or “hey. I am (insert your name) and I (insert your career/business), how about you?”), give them a chance to be themselves and see where the conversation takes you. If it dies out then let it die and move on to another person.
Problem #2: You don’t know what to say
Solution #2: Think of networking as conversing with a family member or work friend. Do not put all of the pressure on yourself to carry a conversation. Simply present yourself to the other person as a unique individual with strengths and interests, then let everything else flow from there. Keep everything simple and surface level until you both develop the comfort level with each other to get more personal.
Problem #3: How do you integrate your networking experiences into your life after the networking event is over?
Solution #3: So you are in the middle of a good networking experience and you want to ensure that the budding relationship will carry-on longer than the current day, what do you do? The first and most important step is to exchange contact information! You can’t communicate with contact information. Ask for whatever mode of communication feels most comfortable to you (i.e. email, phone, social media profile, business cards, etc.). The key is that you have to ask! Ask before the conversation dies down. Strike while the iron is hot.
After obtaining the necessary contact information, do these things: 1) reach out to that person the next day to remind them of who you are and what you all discussed (heavy networkers sometimes need reminders), 2) if an opportunity comes across your desk that you think would be fitting for that person then be sure to send the opportunity to them (this will show that you value their well-being and success – they will reciprocate these actions), and 3) check in with periodically (monthly, bi-monthly, etc.) just to see how things are going (this is what friends/close colleagues do, right?).
Problem #4: The approach and conversation are no problem for you; however, your biggest potential shortcoming is that you over talk and do not listen enough. You can easily dominate conversations and turn off some personality types which will limit your overall networking potential.
Solution #4: You have the gift of Gab and that is a double-edged sword. Because you are conversation dominant, you have the responsibility to lead others comfortably through new conversations. This will require that you not only present new topics of discussion, but you also must welcome warmly the voice and opinions of others so that everyone has the opportunity to share their ideas in the conversation. Many non-extroverts will be intimidated by your demonstrative actions, so you must be aware of the social cues that you give off to those around you.
At the end of your conversation, if you can’t remember the points that someone else has brought up in the conversation then there is a high likelihood that you spoke too much and did not execute an effective listening strategy.
Networking should be a fun and stress-free opportunity to branch out and meet someone new. Every interaction does not have to be about business and all the fruits of your labor will not be enjoyed the first day that you meet someone. Some of my best friendships have come from networking in professional settings. Sports partners, drinking partners, business partners, and thinking partners have all come from relationships that I have built from networking.
Also understand that everyone at a networking event will not always be in a great mood to converse. Don't take it personal...people are allowed to have bad days (not sure why they would come to a "networking" event in a sour mood, but that's neither here nor there...#shrugs). End the conversation respectfully and move on to another person.
Treat new acquaintances like new friends and everything will surely work out for the better more often than not, statistically speaking of course.
Good luck and happy networking!
Be sure to leave a comment below to let me know your thoughts and strategies on networking!
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Dr. Gabriel Burks is dedicated to increasing higher education awareness and showing aspiring scholars the power of science.