I take after my father. He was in general an introvert, solitary, a man of few words and kept mostly to himself although he was a great leader and orator. Something seemed to change in his mid-life and I noticed that he was often among people. He attributes it to his membership in the Rotary.
Being an introvert is not a characteristic that Americans value. Think of all the networking events, coffees, lunches you have to participate in. Of course, you cannot build trust without face time. For an introvert like me, this takes effort and can be quite stressful. It feels awkward and unnatural, but a necessary and required part of the role of being a leader.
First you have to ask yourself some questions, the reasons for networking.
Is it to build new or additional relationships?
Is it to build your reputation?
Is it to cultivate new supporters to share your passion?
Here are some lessons I’ve learned over the years. Some I’ve done well, some not so much. I’ve observed others do a fantastic job and tried to learn from them.
Gravitate toward someone you know who is part of a cluster in a conversation. More often than not, your acquaintance will introduce you to the others. It also offers an opportunity to join in an ongoing conversation.
Take along a ‘date’: Find a colleague to go the event with, if possible. You don’t have to hang out with them the whole time, but it can ease the entrance and help when there is a lull in the conversation.
Make your way to the drinks table: As you walk your way to the table, it gets easier to stop and say hello to folks on the way. You seem purposeful; as if you have a destination. Once you get there, order a water. I prefer sparkling.
If you’ve received a list of attendees prior to the networking event, make a list of 5 people that you want to meet. Conduct some background research about them – their involvement in charities, personal interests, connections. I work with someone who always asks for a brief on key individuals before a meeting. She uses this information to build a connection, start a conversation.
Ask a question and listen. The oft repeated advice that people like to give their opinion or advice is true. Questions put the onus on the other person, leaving you free to listen and learn more. This helps you formulate your position.
Relax and enjoy the company.
Some don’ts –
Don’t pander or suck up.
Don’t ask for the business/request at the social event. Set up an appointment separately for the development opportunity.
Don’t be pushy, particularly if you are not included in the conversation that you may have stepped into. And this does happen. Be prepared for it. Smile graciously and move on
With some preparation and some tricks in your back pocket, you can conduct yourself credibly, build influence and strong networks to advance your passion.