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Networking for the Anti-Networker

I am the worst marketing person.  Don’t get me wrong, I love marketing.  I mean I love creating graphics, coordinating events, and organizing those unique touches that make an impact. But when it comes to networking and talking to complete strangers, I am the worst.  I once equated networking to awkward high school dances. So yes, I am the lonely wallflower waiting for someone to ask me to dance.  

I know that there are other wallflowers out there, lurking awkwardly on the sidelines. So how do we find our comfort zone in a sea of extroverts? I scoured tip articles and came up with this list:

Embrace It and Manage Expectation – Embrace that you are an introvert.  You are not the master of the elevator pitch. That’s ok. Let someone else be center stage while you are the fun conversation on the side. Quality conversations with a handful of people are always better than short, forgettable conversations with every person in the room.

Plan AheadPrior proper planning prevents ...well you know what it prevents. But nevertheless, prepping some ice breakers before an event is always helpful. Think of a few open-ended questions that are generic, like, “What do you do at XYZ Company?” or “How long have you been there?” Then, prep a few that are event-specific.  “Have you seen this speaker before?”, “How long have you been with the hosting organization?” or “What brought you to today’s event?” Prepping both types of questions also helps with the sometimes awkward silence after the initial introductions.

Time Limits Some networking tips say to make sure you get to an event early and stay the entire time.  But for some, this sounds like a slow, painful death. Instead commit to a short window of time for networking. Perhaps 20 minutes before or after. Or, spread over both, 10 minutes before and 10 minutes after. But the kicker is that you have to commit to actually networking in that shorter or shortened timeframe. You might even find that you stay longer than your allotted time!

Use your Connections – Perhaps you are going with someone or you know one or two people who will be at the event. Ask them to introduce you to someone at the event. Armed with a few ice breakers and someone to help keep the conversation going, you’ll be in a conversation before you know it!

Use your Listening Skills – Introverts are notoriously good listeners. Empathetic and fully-engaged in a conversation, we will make people feel heard and valued, which in turn makes them feel good. This will also help with asking questions that creates a memorable conversation!

Share Yourself – In my opinion, the best way to make a conversation engaging and to leave an impression is to share personal stories. I will remember a person if there is something unique to attach to them. But just like there is a fine line between asking questions and interrogating, there is a balance between sharing stories and oversharing.  As a notorious over-sharer, I need to remember that people only need to know that I have two boys and not how I gave birth to them.

Practice and Go Slow – While practice makes perfect, the practice is still intimidating to us wallflowers. So go slow and don’t be too hard on yourself. You won’t make 20 new contacts the first time, but you will gain some confidence and maybe a new person to talk to at the next event.

Now it would be a double standard for me to write this and then continue to stand by the wall, so I commit to trying these steps as well. So if you see me at an SMPS event, say hi! let’s exchange business cards, and I won’t tell you about the Vaseline my dog ate, again…unless you ask.

Sara Reynolds
Marketing Coordinator, Wood, Patel & Associates, Inc

Sara has been in the A/E/C industry for a decade and has been a SMPS member for the past two years - ever since joining Wood, Patel & Associates. She is a mother to two boys (ages 8 and 4) and her free time is consumed by Cub Scouts, Legos, Nerf wars, all things trucks, and sharing the refereeing duties with her husband. She enjoys good whiskey, a good book, and good conversation. 

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