Last week one of my executive career coaching clients asked for tips on how to do in-person networking with new contacts. As an introvert, he feels hesitant just going up to someone and initiating a conversation. Since he is working on improving his relationship-building skills, an upcoming conference offers an opportunity he can't afford to ignore.
Here's what my career coaching client said:
"How can I get more comfortable and effective in general networking situations? When I am in a setting where my position/authority/role is clearly defined, I am much more comfortable approaching people and engaging in conversation; for example, if I am giving a presentation, then interacting about that material is very easy and comfortable. Or, if at a conference with table seating, I can be comfortable conversing with the people on either side because that is a clear expectation.
Where I am less comfortable is: 1) walking into a general cocktail party or reception where no one knows me or why I am there, and initiating a conversation with anyone. I know this is partly a self-confidence issue as I tend to be thinking, 'why would anyone want to talk with me?' 2) also, engaging directly with people I admire from afar is difficult; I can be totally fascinated listening to a presenter from the audience, but incredibly uncomfortable approaching that individual to have a one-on-one. Part of this is my learning style - I learn by listening intently and then absorbing internally what I have heard - but I have to be able to approach and make contact with key people."
For an executive to admit this is quite a feat. I give him kudos for stepping up and confronting his fear. Perhaps you can relate to his situation? One way to help conquer this fear of networking is to seek out career coaching.
I offered my client the following quick tips:
1) When entering a room, most people are hesitant to jump right in and start meeting people. As an introvert, I suggest you look for one person standing alone and walk up to him first. (Chances are he is also feeling intimidated by the experience.) Introduce yourself and then ask questions that you can feed on in order to ask more questions, adjusting as you go for contributions that you can make about yourself. Usually, an individual will ask questions in return.
2) When it’s time to sit down, look for a different individual who may be alone and sit by her. Then strike up a conversation again with questions. As more people join the table, they will want to get involved in the conversation, too. It’s important that you connect with as many people as possible.
3) Don’t freely pass out your business card if not asked for it, but ask for another’s IF you really feel you’d like to stay in touch. Sometimes at the table, everyone will pass around business cards so all get each other’s. That’s OK.
4) Know your agenda in your mind before you enter a room for networking. Know what you want to take away from this experience. That will help you feel focused and organized.
There are entire books written about networking. One of my favorite books is Make Your Contacts Count by Anne Baber and Lynn Waymon. These authors offer a site with lots of good networking information.
For introverts to become successful at networking, it's important to practice, practice, practice! Eventually, you will become more at ease with this activity. And don't forget, whenever you meet someone with whom you want to develop a relationship, make sure you email him/her within 24 hours to schedule a follow-up meeting for coffee or lunch. Don't wait for someone else to call you - take the lead and help this relationship grow!
What do you think? How do you initiate conversation in a networking situation? I'd love to hear from you - please leave a comment below.
Wishing you career success in 2011!