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Networking success strategies for introverts

This post originally ran as an article in AzNetNews, Volume 27, Number 1, February/March 2008.

A number of authors and writers are outgoing folks who find it easy to socialize, meet new people, and start conversations with strangers. For them, networking ― a most necessary component to creating and sustaining business relationships ― is easy, or at least not a dreaded chore. They look forward to bringing new friends and acquaintances into their circles, energized by people-meeting opportunities. They eagerly anticipate the chance to get out from behind the word processor to attend their various meetings, luncheons and mixers.

But what about the introverted author or writer? The person for whom meeting new people can be severely challenging, if not downright painful? Is networking any less important to their success? Definitely not. Even when you’re self-publishing out of your home office, building a platform and creating name recognition requires meeting a lot of people. Sometimes, just following up with new contacts can push an introvert beyond their comfort zone ― never mind actually getting out there to make pitches, give presentations, or attend trade shows and exhibitions.

Not all introverts are paralyzed by the thought of interacting with new people. As Mark Dykeman writes at The Mighty Introvert, “Introverts tend to enjoy having solitary time for thought and reflection. We are not as dependent on other people as extroverts are. Introverts are often quite happy to spend time alone.”

Though introverts can function well in the presence of other people, personal interaction can be exhausting to them. “After a while, we feel drained and frail like Superman does after being exposed to Kryptonite,” Dykeman writes.

So what is a highly introverted author to do when dread overwhelms their every effort to get out there and meet new people? Here are a few ideas.

  • Strive for balance. Realize that spending time with people is equally important as your solo writing time. If you’re extremely introverted, you may overlook the benefits of socializing with others, such as learning new information, developing relationships, personal growth, and just plain fun.
  • Practice socializing. Like most other skill sets, introverts can learn or improve their social skills. Many introverts tend to avoid social activities like networking events because they are uncomfortable or worry they might not know what to do or say in a given situation. This is the time to put that cliché to work: feel the fear and do it anyway, knowing that the more you practice, the easier it will become.
  • Fake it till you make it. You might be surprised to find that some people who seem like the biggest extroverts at your networking events are actually incredibly introverted. They have simply learned to exercise their social muscles for an hour or two at a stretch. Such an event may deplete them afterward, but they know the value of meeting new people and are willing to endure discomfort to do so.
  • Avoid labeling extroverts. If you generally find extroverted people to be superficial, aggressive, or annoying, no one could blame you for not wanting to be more like them or spend more time with them. By shifting your paradigm and expanding your vision of outgoing people, you’ll be more likely to want to interact with them.
  • Recognize the limits of online socializing. Meeting and connecting with people online tends to be much less intimidating than face-to-face socializing, but it can never take the place of real human contact. There’s no need to eliminate your social networking ― just make sure you don’t allow it to take the place of live events entirely.
  • Look for opportunities everywhere. The more chances you have to interact with people, the less importance each single meeting or event will have. This will actually relieve stress, rather than compound it.
  • Play up your strengths by putting others first. Worry less about what you should say and listen carefully to your conversation partners. When the times comes for you to speak, you will be able to weave their interests into your conversation.
  • Realize that you don’t need to brag to self-promote. Introverts sometimes hesitate to speak up because they worry that they lack particular expertise or knowledge. However, planning (and rehearsing, if need be) for your meetings ahead of time will give you the confidence to speak convincingly about your strengths and abilities without needing to embellish.
  • Take your time responding. Don’t assume that others have more right to speak up than you do just because they seem more confident than you feel. You don’t have to respond quickly; your quiet thoughtfulness may give you invaluable insight. If someone asks you an uncomfortable question or appears to demand an immediate answer, speak to the things you do know and ask questions that encourage others to share their knowledge and opinions.
  • Create a success mindset. Rather than fearfully imagining a networking breakfast as a place where you might be interrogated or judged, imagine it as having coffee with a circle of supportive friends and colleagues. Sooner than later, that will become your experience.

Remember Mr. Mutterer from the last post? No one is suggesting that you try to go from SHY to outgoing in one giant leap. It’s always easiest to implement one small change at a time. Many shy people remain introverted because they have built this perceived deficit into such a giant obstacle that they begin to believe that overcoming it is impossible. Making small changes to expand your comfort zone a little at a time will help you create the momentum to eventually take bigger steps.

Rather than setting a goal to become the Queen of Networking, set a personal goal to meet one new person at the next event you attend. Chances are, you’ll meet another introvert there who would welcome the chance to talk with you!

Laura

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We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________

There’s still time to get in on our 10-week program: SOCIAL MEDIA FOR AUTHORS. It starts Sept 5 and goes for 10 consecutive weeks. Sign up for single classes or pay for all 10 and receive a 25 percent discount. Week 1: Facebook Fan Pages (9/5/12); Week 2: Twitter (9/12/12); Week 3: LinkedIn (9/19/12); Week 4: Pinterest (9/26/12); Week 5: SlideShare (10/3/12); Week 6: YouTube (10/10/12); Week 7: StumbleUpon (10/17/12); Week 8: Ning (10/24/12); Week 9: Blogging 1 (10/31/12); Blogging 2 (11/7/12).

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A networking secret few people understand: Be engaged AND engaging

So I’ve been at this networking game for some time now, and yet I still regularly come across people who don’t see the value. “It just never works for me,” they wail. Here’s the thing: lots of people attend a single networking event, fail to meet anyone or find a customer, and assume networking just doesn’t work. Even those who’ve been in a group for a while may not be getting any business from the group – but there’s always a reason!

Ask yourself the following questions about your networking memberships:

  1. How often do you come late and leave early?
  2. How often do you text during the meetings or get up to take a phone call?
  3. How many people in the core group do you know by name?
  4. How many people know your name?
  5. How many people’s businesses do you know well enough that you can describe them to someone else?
  6. How many people understand precisely the kinds of books you write?
  7. How often have you made a referral to someone else in the group?
  8. How often have you talked about anything other than your latest book at a meeting?
  9. How often have you invited another member to coffee or lunch?
  10. How often have you sent a handwritten note to another member?
  11. How often have you donated a gift or door prize?

With the exception of the first two questions, more is better for all of the above. My rule of thumb has always been that you can’t really begin to expect to see results from a group until you have attended long enough for people to miss you when you skip a meeting.

Networking is kind of like church … or school … or relationships … or pretty much any other aspect of life. You get out what you put into it. If you go into it viewing it as a chore, something you have to do, as opposed to a fun opportunity to meet new people and eventually grow your circle of influence, you are significantly affecting your outcomes ahead of time. Think about it. How attracted would you be to someone who muttered, played with the drink in his hands, and looked at his feet while you were introducing yourself? On the other hand, how attracted would you be if the same person smiled broadly and seemed genuinely happy to meet you?

Now, step back a minute and view the scene again, this time watching Mr. Mutterer meet Happy Smiley Guy. Which one more closely matches your persona at a networking event? I understand that not everyone is an extrovert, and that networking can prove challenging for those who are naturally less outgoing. We’re going to talk about that very thing in the next post. Nevertheless, think about your goals again. What do you want to accomplish? If it’s to expand your circle and create greater name recognition, you’ll need to cheer up and embrace networking like you actually enjoy it.

You’ve heard of faking it till you make it, right? Chances are that if you give yourself the opportunity to enjoy meeting new people, sooner than later you actually will enjoy meeting new people and networking will seem like less of a chore.

Make your next networking event a research project. Watch the engaging people. What makes them so interesting and enjoyable to be around? What do they do? How do they speak? How do they carry themselves? How can you mimic a little of their mojo while still making it your own? You’ll likely come across as a phony if most of them know you as Mr. Mutterer but, out of nowhere, you begin employing a big hearty laugh and slapping people on the back.

Here’s one thing to keep in mind: interesting people are interested people. Genuinely focusing on the other person is a great way to make a good first impression. It also helps shift the focus from yourself and any worry you might have about what you’ll say or how you’ll be perceived.

Even if you’ve never seen the value of networking, I encourage you to go into it with a new mindset and give it another try. Then come back and tell us about your experiences!

Here’s to your new networking success!

Laura

__________________

We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.

__________________

There’s still time to get in on our 10-week program: SOCIAL MEDIA FOR AUTHORS. It starts Sept 5 and goes for 10 consecutive weeks. Sign up for single classes or pay for all 10 and receive a 25 percent discount. Week 1: Facebook Fan Pages (9/5/12); Week 2: Twitter (9/12/12); Week 3: LinkedIn (9/19/12); Week 4: Pinterest (9/26/12); Week 5: SlideShare (10/3/12); Week 6: YouTube (10/10/12); Week 7: StumbleUpon (10/17/12); Week 8: Ning (10/24/12); Week 9: Blogging 1 (10/31/12); Blogging 2 (11/7/12).

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