How to network like an extrovert – especially if you’re not one.
The word networking can elicit joy or evoke fear. Some people are born with the gift of the gab and can work a room with grace and style. For many other people schmoozing requires practice, coaching, and a lot of courage. If you’re a natural networker, please pay it forward, help others connect, and send them this article. If you’re not so confident working the room, don’t stay silent. You can improve your skills and build fabulous new relationships with these five tips. Take our advice, and get out of your head, out of your office, and into the rooms where decisions are made, deals are done, and strangers become clients, employers, collaborators, and friends.
- Choose events and organizations that matter to you.
Start where you’re motivated to meet new people with common professional or personal interests. What are you passionate about? What type of people are you most comfortable with. This could be your alumni group, community organization, engineering club, running group, or charitable fundraiser. Attend an event with an activity you enjoy: a cooking class, tennis game or book club will give you something specific to do, and to talk about. You’ll find that networking is not a horrible chore, but rather a way to make new friends, spend your time in meaningful and enjoyable ways, learn something new, build critical career skills, and build your confidence.
- Find the right time:
Good timing makes for good networking. It’s best to network when you’re at your best and can maintain your energy and a positive attitude. If you’re a morning lark, schedule breakfast meetings. If you’re a night owl, meet after work. Time limits are also helpful if you’re not a natural chatterbox. For example, give yourself thirty minutes to meet three interesting people at a cocktail party. Once you reach your goal you can relax, or up your goals and keep networking, or leave and reward yourself with an activity you enjoy even more than networking.
- Prepare your topics of conversations
Prepare ice-breakers and conversation topics by reading up on relevant news and industry publications. Popular culture is an easy way to start a conversation: Which movies have you seen recently? Best restaurant recommendations on the west side? Think of yourself as a researcher or talk show host. Ask someone for their opinion on something you can both relate to: What do you think of the speaker? Ask for advice: What are your favorite technology tools? What other networking events do you recommend? Ask professional questions: What are your biggest business challenges this quarter? Ask personal questions: What is your favorite vacation spot? Blend the personal and professional: How did you get into this field? What advice can you offer someone new to the industry? There are often overlaps between personal, professional, and general topics. This makes it even easier to find common interests and make your small talk meaningful.
- Keep a positive attitude and an open mind.
Sometimes you need to stay on topic and stay focused. Other times, the best strategy is to simply go with the flow and let the conversation lead you. You can discover incredible opportunities from an unplanned conversation. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at networking in any situation. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a natural networker right now, when you start to absorb and apply this advice, you’ll soon become an expert at chatting up a storm anywhere, instead of getting stuck in an elevator talking about the weather.
- Practice your skills.
You can’t learn to network just by reading about it in this article. Ironically. Like tennis, dance, a new language, or any other art form or skill set, you need to go beyond the theoretical knowledge, and practice your skills in real life situations. So go ahead and register for that awesome conference, organize a social lunch with your committee members, pick up the phone, and schedule coffee with the new head of marketing.
Now turn off your technology and go get connected in real life.