by Liz O’Donnell (Boston)
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 percent of all jobs are found through networking. Hank Blank, owner of virtual marketing agency, Hank Blank Inc., believes the benefits of networking go well beyond finding a job. “Networking increases your revenue stream, improves your social currency and makes you smarter,” says Blank. With that kind of return, it would be foolish not to add networking to your professional skill set.
Many people however, especially introverts, view networking right up there with public speaking. To the introverted professional, the idea of “working a room” sounds about as pleasant as a trip to the dentist.
Diane K. Danielson, CEO of the Downtown Woman’s Club and author of Table Talk: The Savvy Girl’s Alternative to Networking, suggests introverts make a strategic plan for networking. First identify your goals whether they are job opportunities, new clients, career advice or funding for a project. Next, call the people you know best and invite them for a cup of coffee.
Hank Blank agrees with this strategy. “My advice for introverts is practice, practice, practice,” says Blank. “And who better to practice with than people you know?”
Social networking is another way to ease into networking. Sites like LinkedIn and Facebook allow you to network online without having to leave your office. These sites are great supplements to face-to-face networking, They should never, however, become replacements for in-person meetings.
Probably the most uncomfortable situation for introverts is attending a networking event. It can be draining to walk into a room full of strangers. Danielson suggests choosing an event with a panel discussion or a speaker rather than a cocktail party. That way you can use the evening’s agenda as an automatic discussion topic with the other attendees.
As far as starting discussions, lead by asking questions. People love to give advice so open the conversation with icebreakers such as, “This is my first time meeting with this group. Who do you recommend I meet?” or “Hello. I just got here. Did I miss anything?”
According to Danielson, it is easier to break into groups of three or more. “If two people are talking, they may be having a private conversation,” she cautions. The easiest approach, of course, is to find another person standing alone. Chances are that person is feeling the same way you are and will be grateful for the introduction.
Compliments are another great way to start a conversation. Stylish people appreciate being recognized for their efforts, so feel free to acknowledge a great bag or pair of shoes. This will automatically give you something in common with another person. However, in order for this approach to work, your praise must be sincere. “You always want to raise the positive energy in the room,” says Danielson. Flattery is a good way to do that. Complaining –about the traffic, the weather, or the hors d’oeuvres — is not.
If you find yourself still reluctant to attend a networking event, bring a friend. Just be sure not to use that friend as a crutch. Agree to split up for ten minutes at a time and then get back together and compare notes. Go with the goal of introducing each other to at least two new people. This will take the focus of you, something that can ease an introvert’s discomfort, and force you to meet others.
With a little bit of planning and a lot of practice, networking can work for even the most introverted professional. And in today’s volatile market, keeping your contact database current can be the difference between thriving and just getting by. Set a networking goal and stick to it when times are tough and even when times are good.