I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.--Maya Angelou
When it comes to networking, many of us--either in excitement or dread--think in terms of the stories we will tell, the people we think we should meet, the number of business cards we want to hand out or collect, and the potential for business or sales. Extroverts thrive on the stimuli of this kind of interaction, but introverts prefer solitude and quieter activities.
This doesn't mean that extroverts are the best networkers, or that introverts can't make valuable connections with people. Meaningful networking, the kind that generates the most important relationships, stems from moments where we exchange, not simply show up. Here are five tips that introverts, who are inherently deep thinkers, can teach extroverts about the art of making meaningful connections.
1. Large groups don't always make for good networking.
In groups, people instinctively mimic everything from body language to their attraction to others. Extroverts may be tempted to think that networking always implies large functions, but activities with a large attendance may actually reduce your chances of getting to know the real ideas and individual values of others.
In her TED Talk on the power of introverts, Susan Cain points out that the strengths of introverts are often in the shadow of more gregarious, but sometimes less thoughtful, peers. Rather than overpowering those around you in a group situation, take a step back and consider how you can learn more about the individual interests and skills of those you're with.
2. Don't miss small opportunities.
There can be gold in looking for less crowded opportunities to interact with others. In environments with less stimulation than, say, a cocktail party, there are more opportunities for thoughtful, memorable dialogue. A good conversation in an unusual or casual place will put most people more at ease than a forced social function, so look for ways to share comments or help others where they are--not just in rooms of 100 guests.
3. You don't have to fill the silence.
As an extrovert, you are particularly sensitive to lulls in conversation. Rather than rushing to fill them yourself, ask questions or make observations that give others the opportunity to bring something new to the interaction. Asking about someone's job or where they're from may come across as banal, but commenting on a recent news story and asking for someone's perspective demonstrates that you're knowledgeable about current events and interested in your new contact's ideas.
4. Value ideas, not empty words.
"This is an exciting time in our niche!" "We're disrupting the industry!" These phrases don't say much in and of themselves. If you find yourself faced with "salespeak," ask why or how or when things changed and what the catalysts were to elicit deeper conversation.
Learning what--and, more importantly, how--people think can give you the most insight into how you might be able to work with them in the future. A good conversation can yield glimpses of their pain points, their goals, their vision for collaboration, and whether there may be synergy between you--all without ever asking these questions outright.
Even if your conversation partner is not someone you'll work with in the future, making the effort to understand them during your networking time can inspire ideas about future clients or collaborators.
5. Follow up thoughtfully.
After you've had a good conversation with someone, be sure to reach out to them in a way that shows you valued your time together. If you send an email, don't just reference your business and say you'd like to work together. Instead, offer a resource or new thought relevant to your conversation, or thank them for an insight they gave you that has proved useful. Pro tip: End with a question to keep the conversation going.
This kind of follow up--the kind that reflects your conversation, not your business--shows the other person that you value them. Everyone wants to feel valued, and a quick, thoughtful email can achieve that goal even better than swag imprinted with your logo.