Three years ago, I walked into a large, Atlanta-area networking event, turned and walked right back out again.
Friends said I was brave, moving across the country a few months earlier to a city where I knew no one. (I do not recommend this.) I’d weathered too many winters in a cold Illinois town, and a few days in Nashville, Atlanta and my hometown of Birmingham, Ala., helped me select an unexpected address. In the words of Goldilocks, Georgia still feels “just right.”
No longer content with referrals for my freelance writing business, I put up a website, started making new friends and accepted invitations to events like that one. But before my networking-savvy pals emerged from a typical traffic snarl on the roads of Atlanta, I had left the building.
I’m an introvert. I’m a social soul with a fluttering heart – an experienced public speaker who would rather stand in front of a crowd than walk into one. To restore my moxie, I needed to remember tips extroverts had taught me about networking and access the strengths already packaged with my introverted tendencies.
1. Mind your mindset.
Before I moved to Georgia, a friend with ongoing health issues told me her doctor had referred her to a pain management specialist. The specialist walked her through a visualization exercise, suggesting she think of a peaceful place she loved, what it looked like and how she felt there.
I asked what she chose to think about, and she said, “I hate it here. I hate it here. I hate it here.”
Clearly, visualization was not her medicine. Reluctance can make us behave like hostages, blinding us to the potential value in new experiences and opportunities.
2. Learn techniques for anxiety management and sales.
As a state and federal lobbyist many years ago, I went where I was sent. Instead of focusing on my nervousness, I could concentrate on accomplishing a task, energized by the permission an authority figure gave me. This shift in my attention is similar to the “reorienting” technique outlined in Chapter 18 of Eric Maisel’s soothing and empowering book, Mastering Creative Anxiety: 24 Lessons for Writers, Painters, Musicians and Actors from America’s Foremost Creativity Coach. Being my own boss may hold me back unless I turn my attention to the gifts I want to share with the world through my business.
I’m not suggesting you walk into a networking event armed with plans to sell your products or services on the spot. The best approaches to in-person marketing are about making people – both the seller and the potential customer – more comfortable.
Educating myself about sales techniques improved my social skills and increased my conversational confidence (and this could happen to you). Books like The Art of Closing the Sale by Brian Tracy are a great place to start, or find the videos, workshops or seminars that speak to you.
3. Ask what they offer; know what you offer.
The same way I once carried a donation for a political candidate to a fundraiser, today I bring two contributions to any networking event: curiosity and equality.
Introverts are naturally curious. We need to voice it, and networking is a series of conversations. Okay, these are conversations with strangers, which can feel tricky, but they’re not just “small talk.” Everyone has a need, and if I can’t help them, I may know someone who can. The next person I meet at a networking event might have an innovative solution for my problems or someone else’s.
Words have energy, and authentic communication unites us with the customers we’re meant to serve. It’s magic. I love helping clients as a writer, editor and “content coach.” After more than 20 years in my field, I still love learning new ways to put words to work.
This makes me no better than and no less than anyone else in the room, regardless of age, experience or wealth.
Feeling better than someone else transforms curiosity into condescension.
Feeling less than someone else transforms curiosity into timidity.
Neither of these qualities will attract balanced personalities or fulfilling projects to a business.
Wherever I am, I belong. I have something to offer, and so do you.
4. Get out there, and cultivate more than one “farm.”
Books and blogs can help, but reading about networking is like reading about how to paint or ride a bicycle. To learn, we must both absorb and apply. I’ll schedule one-on-one meetings over coffee with several new contacts, at my invitation or theirs, after an event ends.
The alchemy of networking turns strangers into colleagues, friends and other contacts. We all need the power of community, and it’s good to be a familiar face. We like to do business with people we know: That’s why Realtors and other sales professionals select neighborhoods and various groups they call their “farms,” seeding them with marketing messages as well as their regular presence.
Familiar places and familiar faces may bring us business, but our greatest opportunities for personal and professional growth are often found outside the gated comfort zones we construct. If everyone in a group knows your name, you can explore another group without abandoning the first.
Unless I exercise my knowledge regularly by circulating into groups and settings that are new to me, my skills (and I) may become dull.
5. Rest, rejuvenate and repeat.
Unlike my extroverted friends who get a surge of energy from other people, I recharge in quiet spaces before returning to the larger world.
Extroverted or introverted, no one is “the perfect networker” at all times. Run into me tomorrow, and I might talk too loudly or say too little. Sometimes I circulate with grace. Wednesday, I might not make the smoothest transition from the person I just met or the colleague I already know as I turn to ask last week’s speaker a question.
What matters is that I treat myself with the same level of kindness I want to give others and receive from them. I celebrate whatever went right, acknowledge my best intentions and ask myself what I want to do differently next time.
And then, I rest up. Every day is an opportunity to begin again.