Networking doesn't come naturally to everyone, but unfortunately, in 2015 it has become almost a necessity if you want to succeed in the business world--especially if you're trying to break into the work force entirely. For most introverts (myself included), having to network can seem like pulling teeth, but according to a recent article by Inc. writer Kevin Daum, introverts are actually better networkers than those who appear outgoing on the surface.
Regardless of how you define your personality or whether you find yourself lost in the discussion of introverts and extroverts, there are things you can do to improve your networking skills and start building those professional relationships.
Below are 10 quick things everyone can do to improve networking skills.
1. Relax and get rid of the pressure.
How you relax may be different from how others relax. Whether you meditate, take a deep breath, have a quick drink before an event, get extra prepared, or bring someone with you to network alongside, getting rid of any pressure you may feel is the number-one way to stay calm and actually have fun networking. Tell yourself you're there to relax, as opposed to there for a purpose.
2. Network with your current contacts first.
If you have already connected with someone by accident (in other words, you didn't plan to network), practice by contacting that person and starting up a conversation. Talk with people in your office you haven't talked with much before, to practice having conversations with people you don't know very well. Networking doesn't always mean hunting down new relationships. Nurture the one's you already have and try to invest in those relationships first.
3. Study before you have to network.
This helps you relax because you'll know a little bit about the people you'll be trying to connect with, and you'll feel more prepared for anything that may come your way. Of course, you won't always know who will be attending a networking event, but even just preparing with notes about the event, the likely attendees, and what you want to get out of the event (or the meeting) will help you feel more at ease.
4. Prepare with good questions to ask.
On the same note as the last point, having questions to ask will also help you feel more prepared and relaxed. If there is ever an awkward silence, or you have a moment where you forget how to act natural because you're nervous, just ask a question you have practiced beforehand. It will help keep the conversation going, and no one will know the wiser.
5. Pay close attention to the small stuff.
If someone tells you something about his or her home life or something he or she finds interesting, remember what it is. These small connections come in handy when you meet with that person a second time or when you make email contact after an event. The more personal the connection you make, the better.
6. Don't worry about what you'll get out of a contact.
One of the most important things to remember about networking is to remain natural. It's important to know what you want out of an event or a contact, but that shouldn't be your main focus when you're actually talking with someone. Keep it casual and be genuinely interested in meeting someone so it doesn't feel like you're using the person for a business venture. In the end, this will get you much further, and you'll get there faster.
7. LinkedIn is your friend.
Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date. Connecting on LinkedIn is an excellent way to keep the conversations and relationship going after you've met someone. It helps show off your professional information and gives both you and your contact an easy way to stay in touch.
8. Remember quality over quantity.
Whom you're networking with is much more important than how many people you're talking to at an event. You want to focus on the quality of your connections as opposed to the quantity, and as you do, you'll find that you become a better networker because you're able to really focus on what matters. A HubSpot article adds, "Networking isn't about frantically gathering business cards and phone numbers as fast as you can and then hitting up your new 'contacts' for favors. It's about establishing mutually beneficial relationships--and to do that, you have to do more than speed through a conversation."
9. Have a memorable business card.
It sounds easy enough, but your business card really can help in a networking situation. You don't have to get too crazy and have a card like some of these, but put time into your design. Make your card representative of your company using your logo and your colors, and help your name and that of your business stand out with cool fonts and bold lettering. How you design your card is up to you, but make sure you take it seriously.
Extra tip: On that same note, having a memorable story to tell or joke to bring up in conversation is also a plus. Whatever you can do to stand out.
10. Always keep in touch after an event.
This doesn't simply refer to sending a follow-up email, but to keeping in touch whenever possible as well. If your social connections alert you that it is someone's birthday, send a quick message. If you read something that reminds you of someone, tag him or her in a status update on your social accounts. Or just send someone an email out of the blue. Keep in mind that the more you keep in touch with a contact, the better your interaction will be the next time you see him or her in person.
Extra tip: One last thing to keep in mind is the idea that the more you network, the more comfortable you will become with it. Network all day everyday with everyone you meet, and eventually it will become second nature to you. You won't realize you're networking until you've made a great contact--and that's really the ultimate goal. And yes, even introverts can practice enough so that networking is an afterthought.