After serendipitously crossing paths as guests on the same radio program on day—Judy and I having a passion and love for networking—we naturally connected with each other. Judy has graciously agreed to grace us with her expertise in a series of guest blog posts. Every Wednesday January-February 11, I’ll post one of Judy’s tidbits that will all make us better professionals.
Power Connecting (Networking) for Introverts
Recently Susan Roane, author of How to Work a Room, contacted me when she heard
about my forthcoming book on how to be a power connector. We had a great
conversation in which she told me that the number one question people ask is, “I’m
shy—how do I network?”
Most psychologists agree that anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of people in the U.S.
can be classified as introverts. I too used to be part of that group: growing up I was a
tall, awkward girl who did her best to shrink into the background in every social
situation. But there’s something interesting about many of us introverts: because we
don’t talk a lot, we are often very observant. We watch what people do and how they
That’s exactly what I did all through high school and college, and in my first job. I
watched people and learned about who they were, what they wanted, and how
others successfully “broke the ice” with them in social situations. And then I tried a
few things that helped me get past my initial reluctance (okay, fear) so that I could
reach out to the people I wanted to meet.
Today when someone tells me they can’t network because they’re shy or
introverted, I offer four suggestions that can help turn reluctant introverts into
successful power connectors.
1. Realize that every important person in your life was once a stranger.
“Stranger danger” is a fallacy. After all, your best friend, first crush, spouse, mentor,
co-worker, or teammate were strangers when you first met them. Whenever you
think about networking, imagine that the next person you meet might turn out to be
one of your closest friends.
2. Become fascinated by other people.
Here’s the great news for us introverts: most other people love to talk about
themselves, and all we need to do is to give them the chance to do so—simply by
saying hello, asking a good open-ended question, and then listening. When you take
the focus off of you and really pay attention to the other person, you’ll be surprised
at how quickly your nerves disappear.
3. Practice in non-threatening contexts.
While you’re walking, rather than staring at your phone or the ground, practice
looking at the people walking by. Say hello to the person next to you in line or on the
airplane. Ask the barista or the store clerk how they are doing, and watch them light
up when someone actually treats him or her like a human being. Then take this a
step further and say hello to people whom you might find intimidating—the boss,
the president of the bank, a political official. You don’t have to initiate a
conversation, just get used to keeping your focus on others.
4. Before you network, prepare.
If you’re going to a meeting or conference, do your research on the people you wish
to meet so you will have something interesting to say about them and their
interests. Better yet, reach out to them beforehand via email or LinkedIn. Best of all,
check with your network to see if anyone can provide an introduction for you. Many
introverted people find it less intimidating to connect online or through a mutual
contact (and a warm introduction is a better way to enter a relationship anyway).
Prepare three questions so you can immediately get the other person talking about
themselves (see #2 above). For example, “I saw that you are heading up your
company’s drive to support the local food bank. That’s a great cause—how’s it
going?” “My friend Tom says you’re a baseball fan. What team do you follow? What’s
your opinion of their prospects this year?”
You also might want to have a few general facts on current events ready to start a
conversation. Bring up the latest development in your industry or area: if people
know about it, you can ask their opinions. If they don’t, you can tell them a little
about it and then ask their opinions. Either way, you can get them talking quickly
and keep the pressure off of you.
Finally, create and rehearse a one- or two-sentence response to the question, “What
do you do?” But make sure your answer is interesting and involves something you
can be excited about. A friend of mine begins his introduction by talking about how
he loves to ride horses, for instance. You also could talk about whatever aspect of
your business that makes you enthusiastic—the latest client you landed, or the new
product you will be rolling out. Rehearsing a short response in advance will make it
easier for you to look assured, and talking about something that lights you up will
spark more interesting conversations.
Power connecting isn’t about building a huge network anyway; it focuses upon
creating valuable relationships with a relatively small circle of individuals whom
you can help and who can help you. In any networking situation, your goal is simply
to connect with one or two kindred spirits and learn more about them. And who
knows? They might become some of your VIRs—very important relationships.
Judy Robinett is the author of How to Be a Power Connector: The 5+50+150 Rule (McGraw-Hill, May 2014), a book that provides instant, effective strategies for meeting the people you need to know and bonding with them fast to further your goals and theirs. Robinett is a business thought leader who is known as “the woman with the titanium digital Rolodex.” She has been profiled in Fast Company, Forbes, Venture Beat, Huffington Post, and Bloomberg Businessweek as a sterling example of the new breed of “super connectors” who use their experience and networks to accelerate growth and enhance profitability.
Judy can be reached at:
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