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NETWORKING

Master Networking: Tips for Introverts

Is "working the room" your idea of hell? Entrepreneurs who feel the same way offer 7 tricks for networking without feeling phony.

As it turns out, there are a lot of introverts out there! And many of them have their own tricks for making networking not only effective but almost enjoyable.

We received a number of responses to our article on Networking for Introverts. Several of our readers were kind enough to share additional tips on how introverts can network successfully, so we thought we would share them here.

Patrick Zielinski writes:

"Part of life's gift is just being able to listen and get to know someone.  Still, I sometimes don't say anything when I'm with a group of people or in a meeting. I notice the voice in my head telling me to speak up. But, as soon as I drown it out, then I know I'm not pretending to be someone else."

Patrick's comments really resonated with me. I also have heard that voice in my head telling me to say something, anything! Yet my worst networking moments have been when I have listened to that voice and tried to play the role of "gregarious extrovert." It is uncomfortable and phony, and it takes me away from my strengths as an introvert. I am actually much stronger at active listening and reacting than I am at leading a conversation. In my worst "gregarious extrovert" moments, I have stopped listening and learning as I got caught up playing a role.

I cannot emphasize this point enough: A good listener can be a great networker! In my experience, most people enjoy talking about their job, their life and their concerns, and will gladly lead the conversation if you let them. Empathize with and actively listen to your conversational partner, and you may have a great networking conversation without saying more than a few dozen words.

Beth Buelow (founder of The Introvert Entrepreneur, a training and coaching resource for introverts) writes:

"Networking is a skill that can be learned, even for the most shy or introverted person... What helps me:

  • Go with a friend or colleague, so we can offer mutual support and introductions.
  • Give myself permission to come and go as I want, no apologies (I don't need to be first on the scene, or stay to the bitter end!).
  • Don't schedule anything else social that day, so I've got energy to exert.
  • Remind myself that other people might be anxious or uncomfortable, too; we're all in this together.
  • And remember to smile. Smiling invites and relaxes like few things can."

All great ideas! I use many of the techniques Beth mentions to reduce stress and put less pressure on myself to give a great networking "performance." By going to networking events with a friend, we can share "hosting" duties and I can spend more time just being myself.

Corey Dilley writes:

"Another strategy I've found helpful – make friends and figure out how to do business later... Make a friend first, then the business conversation will come much more naturally."

This is a really important point! We are all "allergic" to being sold to by a salesman; many people immediately throw up a lot of defensive barriers in a conversation if they think a person is selling to them. Some of my worst networking moments have been when I have tried to play the role of "salesman." Conversely, my best networking moments have been when I was not playing a role at all, but was simply listening and talking to the person and making a friend.

One key thought when networking: The first goal of any conversation is to earn the right to have a next conversation! Networking is not about "winning the sale" in any individual conversation, it is about continuing the conversation over time and building a productive and mutually profitable relationship. Make friends first, do business later!

Are you an introvert? If so, what coping techniques have you adopted to help you become a better networker? Please let us know in the comments below or email us at karlandbill@avondalestrategicpartners.com.

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IMAGE: iStock
Last updated: May 18, 2012

KARL STARK AND BILL STEWART | Columnist | Co-founders, Avondale

Karl Stark and Bill Stewart are managing directors and co-founders of Avondale, a strategic advisory firm focused on growing companies. Avondale, based in Chicago, is a high-growth company itself and is a two-time Inc. 500 honoree.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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