While there is no shame in being shy, it can be a setback when your sales success depends on you networking effectively. However, this need not hold you back, as there are plenty of ways to play to your strengths and with a little planning, you could find that being reserved is a positive plus and you can turn your aptitudes to your advantage.
If the idea of schmoozing a roomful of strangers takes you completely out of your comfort zone, and brings you out in a cold sweat, fear not, as you are not alone. So, to become a face-to-face networking Ninja, here are some tips and tricks to painlessly make more successful business connections than you can shake a stick at:
- Plan ahead
OK, so let’s tackle the ‘dreaded’ face-to-face networking event head on! – With a little forward planning, this need not fill you with fear and can be a great way to make lasting connections. In fact, with some shrewd strategies you can banish your fears for good. Firstly, having identified a suitable event, get a list of attendees, if possible, and do some online research on them beforehand. You can then focus on speaking to those who are most appropriate, and even contact them in advance to introduce yourself and break the ice.
To avoid becoming a wallflower, you could also ask a friend to come along – this can boost your confidence no end! It’s also wise to practice your patter in advance – being sure of what you want to say makes networking much less nerve wracking! In fact, the fear you feel from being unprepared, can work against you, as it releases cortisol into your brain, making it harder to function productively. So, combat this by planning ahead – never miss an opportunity through nerves. In addition, always arrive early – it’s far less intimidating than having to approach established groups of people, if you’re late.
- Yes, but what do I say?
If you find it difficult to start a conversation with a stranger, don’t worry, most people do, but some are better at hiding it than others. There really is just a knack to it. Having a standard ‘opener’ to a conversation, such as ‘So, what brings you here?’, is a good way to get the ball rolling. In fact, this set phrase is especially good, as it encourages others to talk about themselves, which is a sure-fire way to defrost any occasion, as research shows that this elicits the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money, ensuring they warm to you.
However, if you’re still stuck for something to say, don’t despair, as making small talk is simple if you stick to a formula such as the ARE technique, which stands for Anchor, Reveal, Encourage. First find an approachable person – perhaps they’re by themselves – and make eye contact. Then, find some common ground – this is the ‘anchor’ and can be as simple as commenting on the weather or the event. Next share something about yourself, which builds on your comment, like how you feel about the weather or the event – this is the ‘reveal’. Finally, ask a question related to your comments, to ‘encourage’ them to talk.
- Play to your strengths
It may sound surprising, but your secret weapon for success as an introvert when networking, is just to be yourself. If you’re worried that your awkwardness will make you less likeable, you couldn’t be further from the truth, as research shows that displays of fallibility, or the ‘pratfall effect’, endear you to others more. However, while this can be appealing in small doses, be careful not to make yourself appear professionally inept!
You should also recognise your strengths and put them to use. As an introvert, in all probability you spend less time talking than some and are a good listener, which is a valuable skill for networking. Active listening, which involves giving your undivided attention, helps build rapport and make lasting connections – in this, you may have the advantage over extroverts, so make the most of it! However, a strength can also be to recognise your weaknesses and get help to improve your skills. You could therefore gain training to boost your networking skills, such as that offered by LEO Coreline, which can help you network like a pro or even enhance your listening skills.
- Tell me about yourself
So, having initiated a conversation and listened for all you’re worth, you now find yourself being asked the age-old question ‘Tell me about yourself’, often referred to as ‘TMAY’. For the unprepared introvert, this could put you in a spin, but not so for the seasoned networker!
This is your chance to shine, so you need to have a planned response which puts across your reason for being there. This is your proverbial ‘elevator pitch’. As most elevators take just a couple of minutes to reach a floor, and evidence suggests the average attention span is pretty limited, you should keep it short, immediately win their interest and make it compelling!
You need to craft a well-rounded answer which includes who you are, what you do, why your business is wonderful and how what you do could help the person you are speaking to. Also, suggest a future meeting to discuss matters further – after all, your aim is to build lasting business connections!
- Always follow up!
Finally, once you have made a connection, be sure to follow up. This may sound obvious, but many fail to do this. Don’t let shyness stand in the way, as a polite follow-up should be welcomed. However, as with most things, there are definite dos and don’ts to networking follow-up. If sending an email, make it individual to the person you are addressing, perhaps mentioning something in your previous conversation. This can increase your chances of success, as impersonal emails can be off-putting. For this reason, be sure to collect business cards at events you attend and jot down relevant details of the person on the back – these can be used to make future communications more individual.
Of course, there are more ways to follow up than just email, such as social media or phone, but the important thing is that you DO follow up and quickly – get in touch while your acquaintance remembers you, for maximum impact.
So, forget your networking fears! Introvert or not, we’re all in the same boat when it comes to making connections, but with a little practice and persistence, you could even start to enjoy it!