As an introvert, there’s a necessary business tactic that makes me reflexively cringe: networking. At face value, it’s as if you’re literally working a net of potential acquaintances in order to further your own goals. As a human, that’s gross. And it’s also a fundamental misunderstanding of what networking is.
If I find networking intimidating, networking events are terrifying. I watch as others effortlessly float around the room chatting about the weather and the colors of their shoelaces; seemingly mind-numbing chitchat that I can safely avoid by not starting a conversation, effectively dodging the purpose of attending an event entirely. Since company policy requires each of us to attend a networking event once a month, I’ve developed some coping mechanisms.
Show up on my own.
More daunting than the event itself, right? But I know if I go to a networking event with a coworker my chances of talking with anyone else is a negative 20%. From an outside perspective, approaching two people already in conversation is for socially intrepid champs. It’s difficult to join a conversation without interrupting. If you hover too long it’s awkward. If you actually interrupt it’s rude. If I’m talking to someone already, people who may have wanted to ask about my shoelaces will be dissuaded and I will have missed meeting a new friend.
Remembering I’m there to make friends.
I realize this is the hardest thing for me to swallow when it comes to networking. I have difficulty considering people I talk to for no longer than half an hour friends. (I know for those individuals who make friends in the span of seconds, a half hour seems unnecessarily excessive.) If I can convince myself I’m surrounded by potential friends, I’m less squeamish and obviously more likely to make said friends.
Focus on one person (or two if I’m feeling particularly ambitious).
As a stereotypical introvert, I excel at one-on-one exchanges. When confronted with a room full of conversations, I become much more reserved. In an effort to fight my natural impulse, I get my Sherlock on and try to find one person I may have something in common with or is also alone and approachable by virtue of proximity. This kills two birds with one stone: I’m no longer awkwardly shuffling about and I’ve officially made a friend (networked). Simple as that.
This I have yet to master. The conversation has clearly come to an end; what do you say to someone you may never see again in person? See you later…um…have a nice life? Fortunately as a coffee drinker I tend to have an empty paper cup in hand and employ its disposal as an exit strategy. Beyond that all I have is shaking hands and saying “it was nice to meet you, …”
…remember their name.
I’m great with faces, horrendous with names. Since my goal is to meet one or two people, remembering a name or two is a reasonable achievement. It’s silly, but so many times I have people repeat their names a second time and say, “I’m sorry, I’m awful with names, could you repeat that?” Often that helps, and if all else fails I repeat their name in my head as many times as necessary. That way there’s a chance I’ll remember them at the next networking event.
Rinse. Wash. Repeat. As with most things, networking is easier with practice. Perhaps someday I’ll try to meet three people.