As a business consultant and executive coach I get asked a lot of questions, so I am introducing a brand-new blog segment called “Ask a Business Coach” where I will provide answers your questions. Whether it’s a hiring dilemma, a training issue, or a question about your career, I can help. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will answer them on the blog.
To kick off the new Q&A segment I want to talk about a topic that comes up more often than any other: networking. For many, networking comes naturally, but for others it’s a four-letter word. In the next several posts I will answer some of the most common questions I get asked about networking.
Q: I’m an introvert and just the thought of approaching a stranger makes me nervous. How am I ever supposed to network with an entire room full of people?!
A: I have good news for you! Being an introvert does not mean you are incapable of socializing, it just means you are more focused on the inner world rather than the outer world. While introducing yourself to strangers may not come naturally, you can still benefit from networking if you take it slow and give yourself time to adjust.
I too am an introvert, so I’m right there with you. It’s interesting since the majority of what I do involves networking with new people and addressing large groups as a keynote speaker. (I am my own oxymoron.) I understand how it feels to be a shy, private person would rather sit in the corner than work the room. Here are three tips I recommend to help you connect with others more easily:
1.) Give yourself time. Networking may not come naturally to you at first, and that’s OK. You may feel like you have to put on a charade and that you are being insincere, but that will pass with time and practice. No one does something perfect on the first try, so cut yourself some slack. Start out with a small networking event, preferably one where you know several of the people attending so you won’t feel like you are drowning in a sea of strangers. Have a friend introduce you to someone new to take some of the pressure off. And now you’ve already grown your network. Not too tough, huh?
2.) Work your way up. After you have attended a few smaller events with lots of familiar faces, take the next step and scout out a larger event with fewer acquaintances in attendance. It doesn’t have to be a purely professional function, either. Social events such as concerts, lectures, or luncheons are also great ways to meet new people who could help you grow your business. If you pick an event you enjoy, chances are you will have a much better time anyway.
Before the event, figure out your intentions and set goals for yourself. How many new people do you feel comfortable connecting with? One, three, five or more? When choosing your number, think more about the quality of your connections than the quantity. If the thought of connecting with one new person sounds great, but the idea of approaching five freaks you out, stick with one. You are much more likely to accomplish a goal if it’s realistic. And I would rather accomplish a small goal than bomb with a large one. Wouldn’t you?
3.) Keep it real. You’re awesome the way you are! Don’t assume a different persona just because you think that’s what the other person expects or what the situation calls for. Networking is another term for connecting, and we have been doing that all our lives. Remember when you were in grade school and you became instant friends with the other kids who liked playing the same games at recess? Professional networking really isn’t any different. True, we’re all taller now and we wear suits, but at heart we’re all still looking to find someone who shares our interests. And if you look at it that way, networking is really just recess for grown-ups.
Stay tuned to the blog for more answers to questions about networking. If you have a question you would like me to answer, send an e-mail to email@example.com.