Have you been accused of being an introvert? Maybe you’ve seen articles or heard “experts” talk about how to overcome your introversion to be better at networking.
To that recommendation, I say, Why the f*ck would you want to do that?
First off, there’s nothing WRONG with being an introvert, or a quiet person, or someone who is more reserved. It’s no different than having blue eyes or brown hair. It’s a feature of who you are, not a character flaw.
In fact, more people identify as introverts, (roughly 50%), than have blue eyes (only 8%). Yet you don’t see webinars on how to overcome having blue eyes to be better at networking.
Conversion therapy doesn’t work. Better to accept who you are and use your strengths to your advantage.
If you’re someone who doesn’t particularly like networking because you think it’s overwhelming, the conversations are superficial, or it drains your energy, what if you adjusted the circumstances to better fit you?
Let’s take each of these three reasons to hate networking one at a time.
NETWORKING SITUATIONS CAN BE OVERWHELMING
Large events such as conferences and banquets often draw hundreds of people. If you’re not confident in your conversational abilities and you don’t know anyone there, they can create anxiety.
So the best plan for networking success is to start out attending smaller events. Find groups that meet in smaller venues or as sub-groups of a larger organization.
It’s easier to get into a discussion with someone when there are only 20 people in the room vs 300 people milling around. It’s even easier if the format of an event is an interactive presentation. Look for opportunities to attend those types of events.
Just a few weeks ago, I went to an educational seminar on Becoming Your Own Leadership Coach. The Women’s Leadership Forum is a sub-group of a larger networking organization and it tends to draw 20-40 people per event.
The speaker invited questions and conversation during her presentation. Afterwards, attendees had the opportunity to talk amongst themselves.
Yes, networking, but the conversations were easier because you could talk about your perspective or ask questions of others regarding their experiences as it related to her topic. And it was in a conference room, not a ballroom.
CONVERSATIONS ARE SUPERFICIAL AND STUPID
For some reason, most professionals have been trained to ask “What do you do?” as their first question upon meeting a new person at an event.
For the most part, they mean it as what do you do as a job. (Although I have heard in some parts of California, they really want to know what your hobbies are.)
This is likely the single most hated question in networking. Yet, everyone is still asking it!
So don’t ask that question. Come up with more interesting queries and make your conversations more substantial.
Guaranteed you will enjoy your interactions more and you will make yourself more memorable in the eyes of your conversational partners.
Need ideas for better questions? How about:
- How did you get into your career field?
- What do you do for fun?
- What are you looking to get, or learn, at this event?
If you want to make networking a better experience, take a little control and change the parts you don’t like to make them work better.
ATTENDING EVENTS IS DRAINING
Many, although not all, introverts find networking events draining. Making small talk in large groups isn’t necessarily fun.
But if you follow the advice in these first two points, you’ll be able to eliminate much of the energy suckiness.
Still, spending several hours feeling trapped in a room with strangers can lead to fantasies of escaping to a quiet soak in the tub with a good book. Nothing wrong with needing your alone time.
One way to keep networking events from draining all your energy is to limit your time there. If an event is three hours long, no one says you have to stay the entire time.
Get there early, stay for an hour and leave. Or take a break and step outside for a breath of fresh air when you need to.
The overall point is, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to networking. It’s not a matter of becoming more extroverted or acting like someone you’re not.
It’s not about changing who YOU are so you better fit some kind of networking mold. You become better at networking by using the strengths you already have.