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In my previous life, “networking” meant binge drinking and pretending to be somebody else. I hid myself, because I didn’t know myself. Networking, to me, was just a bunch of people in suits drinking too much. That’s what I thought, and so I acted accordingly. I either avoided it entirely (my preferred choice), or tried to fit in as somebody that I wasn’t. Of course now, I realize how stupid this was.
I crashed and burned, and I have been healing. Part of the healing process has been to approach networking again in a completely different way. The right way.
Making strong connections is necessary for business and personal reasons. Salesy talk is not my thing, but getting to know why you do what you do and your life goals? Helping you grow your business as you help me grow mine? Now we’re talking.
I’m an introvert. I don’t hate people, and I’m not socially awkward (usually). Actually, I’m rather personable, easy-going, and downright chatty. At least, that’s what people tell me when I admit to being overwhelmed by socializing. Compared to other introverted friends of mine, I’m practically a social butterfly. At the end of the day though, I know I’m an introvert because I can only recharge in silence. Among other reasons, but that’s the top one for me.
It’s difficult to maintain the right amount of energy to talking to people. As I type this, I have multiple meetings and networking events scheduled for the rest of the week. On one hand, that’s crazy exciting. On the other hand, I kind of want to go hide in my bedroom and play hooky for the rest of the week.
What a problem to have. Excuse me while I go wipe my tears with my hundred dollar bills. (I wish).
I love this Ted Talk about The Power of Introverts, by Susan Cain. She speaks right to me:
Many moons ago, I would not have even attempted so many meetings in one week. I’ve never really had to go to networking events, or give presentations, or any of that. It used to strike me as fake, weird, and uncomfortable.
News flash to self: it’s only as fake, weird, and uncomfortable as I make it. Every single person is an opportunity to grow. Not a dollar sign, but a person to get to know and like, a person I may be able to help (personally or professionally).
Logically, I know this. In practice, it’s tough. Every time I schedule a meeting, the stress levels start to rise. Introverts make up a pretty big part of the world, so I know I’m not alone here. I’m still finding my groove, but there are a few things that I have started doing in the past year that have helped me tremendously. Not only have these networking tips helped me just get out there, I’ve gotten business and repeat business.
In a nutshell, this is worth learning.
What “networking” looks like depends on your business or purpose, but I’ve found that these principles seem to apply both online and in person. Interacting with people constantly online can feel just as draining to me as a day full of networking.
Tip #1 – Don’t overthink it.
Relationships are part of the human experience. Whether you are working to accomplish business or personal goals, “networking” is simply building relationships. Don’t overthink the process, and don’t second-guess yourself.
Don’t talk yourself out of it, or make excuses. We are creatures who need connections. Growth is uncomfortable. Push through it and build those relationships. You don’t have to get to know ALL the people to benefit from networking. In a room of 30+ people, I may find 1-3 that I click well with, and spend most of my time talking to 1 or 2 of them.
I’d rather get to know people well, and that takes time and focus. It doesn’t mean that the other 28-29 people are duds, or not worth my time. Absolutely not. However, as an introvert I can only expend a certain amount of mental energy in the process, and I want it to count.
Tip #2 – Rest on the off days.
If I have a lunch meeting on Monday, a group meeting on Tuesday, a coffee meeting on Wednesday, and a presentation or sales call on Thursday, I ain’t doin’ nothin’ on Friday. That’s just how it goes. The Southerner in me comes out. Not a dang thing. Not with people outside of my immediate circles, anyway. I’ll socialize, but only with people I can let it all hang out with, and that’s that.
Bonus tip: I schedule most meetings one day a week, and I block that entire day out for those meetings. It may sound like an introvert’s nightmare, but it’s very effective for me.
Meetings and events are certainly not limited to that day, but I’ll go with that day as my first choice when setting up the meeting. I’m already in the mode to talk to people, and I can stay “in the zone” all day long. I’ve found that for me at least, this works much better than a meeting every single day, or every other day. When I scheduled one per day, I found myself drained every day and stressed about preparing for the meetings. Back to back meetings keeps me engaged and “in the zone”.
Tip #3 – Prepare ahead of time.
It settles the anxiety in my chest if I pick out my clothes (and maybe even shower) the night before an event or meeting. Do something to settle your anxiety in a productive way. In my case, it’s picking out my clothes and getting to bed early.
I’m not taking my own advice right now (it’s midnight here, and I have back to back networking events tomorrow. Gah). You should, though. It’s good advice, but sometimes I have to remember WHY it’s good advice. D’oh.
Tip #4 – Contribute!
It’s not about you. It’s about them. Every meeting and conversation (and just…life in general) should be approached with an attitude of helpfulness. What can you do to help this person or group? Of course, we all want to make money or grow our network or whatever your goals are, but those are by-products.
When you approach every situation with an attitude of service and contribution, everything shifts for the better. I promise. Try it for a month and let me know if I was wrong. Of course, this tip works for all personality types, not just introverts. We’re also usually quite good at this anyway, but when the over-stimulation sets in, it helps to remember your purpose.
Tip #5 – Be Yourself.
I no longer pretend to be anything other than what I am. There’s no point. Apparently, I am learning lessons at 30 years old that I should have learned in kindergarten.
Be yourself. Be kind. Clean up after yourself. Eat the whole cupcake. Don’t eat your boogers.
You get the idea.
Whoever you are, own it. I’m talking to myself as much as you.
These ideas work, and I know that because I’ve forced myself through them. When you have children and bills to pay, it’s sink or swim, baby. I hit a point where I could either sit back and wait for work to come to me, or go out and get it. The former isn’t a very appealing option, and I can only recommend that latter.
You don’t have to pretend to be somebody else to be successful at networking as an introvert. Capitalize on your strengths, and get to work.
There you have it. Now go out and get it, whatever “it” is in your world.
Further reading: How to Network Like a Boss
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Hi! I'm Ashley, and my sobriety date is May 6, 2015. I write to share my experience, strength, and hope in recovery. On any given day, you can find me developing websites, writing, or chauffeuring kids around. Read my story...
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