Networking is really about friends helping friends, and no matter how shy you may be, you have experience and perspective that can benefit others.
“Nearly every moment of every day, we have the opportunity to give something to someone else -- our time, our love, our resources.” S. Truett Cathy, Chick-fil-A founder
I was not an outgoing person when I went off to college at UC Santa Cruz. But my mother, Sue Kleibrink, gave me a homework assignment -- to meet two new people a day. Not only did I have to meet them, I was to find out some information about them so I could write my mom and introduce her to them.
I diligently did this assignment, which was super easy the first week, since I didn't know anyone at my college. As time went on, meeting two new people a day became a habit. Now when I go to a networking event, I don't dread it, though I do use some techniques to make it easier for me.
Introverts can thrive at networking events. They tend to be good listeners and excel in one on one conversations. That is where real connections are made.
Networking events can be a stage on which to shine. When you attend a gathering, play to your strengths, even if every single interaction with a human seems to be awkward. Keep in mind that you have unique experiences and background that can benefit others.
My friend Jan Nagel is a networking expert. Here's why. I met Jan though an organization called Women in Animation. Whenever this group holds an event, Jan appoints herself the connector. When she spots someone she doesn't know she introduces herself and finds out something about the person. She then introduces that person to someone else at the event, giving the someone else enough information about the new person so a conversation can immediately ensue. Once she is sure that the two people will be engaged in conversation, she moves on to the next new person. I have benefited from Jan's expertise in making connections numerous times. And she is never at a loss for whom to speak to at an event.
Recently, I was at the Idaho Writers Guild Conference and noticed an impeccably dressed woman waiting outside the door to the awards reception. I thought she was waiting for a friend to show up but after some time, realized she was alone. So, I implemented Jan's methods and approached the woman and found out she was there to receive one of the awards. She was painfully shy and wasn't sure if she should enter the reception. I went to speak to the organizers and convinced the woman that she was welcome at the reception and invited her to join me and partake in some appetizers. Later, I saw her speaking to some of the other writers in the room.
Some advise you should bring someone who is more outgoing with you to events. That person can help introduce you to new people. I thought that would be the case when I once accompanied my husband, his screenwriting partner, and his partner's wife to a big Hollywood party. We knocked on the door and right before it opened, the wife said, “Here' s the deal. We can't speak to each other at the party or hang out together. And we each have to meet five new people." “What?!,” I exclaimed in horror, just as the door was opened by our host, Bruce Vilanch. I had never met Bruce before, so I gave myself a mental pat on the back as I introduced myself and counted him as my first of five new people. I gravitated to the appetizers and struck up a conversation about the food with one of the stars of Cheers. By the end of the night each of us in our quartet had met five new people.
When you go to a networking event, it's not important to meet five people. Make it a goal to connect with one person where the interaction is mentally stimulating, feels emotionally rich, or engages your artistic or aesthetic sensibilities. I make it a goal to meet one new person who might be able to help someone else I know. Sometimes that person might need my help. Sometimes that person becomes a friend.
A few tips for networking at events and after:
- Arrive early. It's easier to find someone to speak with when the room isn't crowded.
- Volunteer to work the event. Having a job gives you permission to interact with people and gives you a purpose. You have a built-in topic related to your volunteer responsibilities to begin a conversation. If you can, volunteer to help with registration and use a person's name three times when you first meet him or her so you will remember it.
- Pose unusual questions. “What's your favorite thing to do when you are not working?” “What's your passion?” “If you could put a billboard anywhere in the world, what would it say?” “What is your favorite...” It could be about the appetizers, a place to vacation, a movie, a book, whatever your passion is....
- Position yourself. People may ask for directions to registration if you stand near the door.
- Give yourself a break. Give yourself time to re-energize.
- Stay late to help pack up or walk out with someone -- it's a more relaxed time for connecting.
- Follow up with those you found intriguing, interesting or fun.
Pay attention to where you feel most comfortable but remember being a little uncomfortable helps you grow and expand your skills.
Networking really is just about building mutually beneficial relationships -- in other words, friends helping friends. It can lead to career connections or new opportunities, but your goal should always be to connect with someone and build a relationship, whether you are an introvert or not.
Pamela Kleibrink Thompson assists her clients to reinvent and transform, whether it’s starting new careers or businesses or starting new jobs or beginning college educations. Whether they need encouragement, accountability, a game plan, or a road map, Pamela helps them achieve their goals. To schedule a one-on-one career coaching session, or to book a speaking engagement, contact Pamela Thompson, The Career Navigator, at PamRecruit87@gmail.com.