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Friday, January 27, 2012

Networking For Introverts

Forbes

9/01/2010 @ 5:11PM
Meghan Casserly, Forbes Staff

“Networking is excruciating,” says Jessica Klein, who works in rare books in Manhattan where, according event listing hub EventMe.com there are hundreds if not thousands of public and private events daily.
Klein admits: “Actually, I don’t even really ‘network. It’s more like standing around awkwardly while sipping drinks. I make phone calls to avoid talking to people. And concentrate very hard at drinking so no one bothers me.”

... Klein and thousands of others, … struggle with networking.

“In many cases it’s been defined as something negative,” says Devora Zack, author of the new book Networking For People Who Hate Networking. “Some people see it as a means to manipulate people or just an exercise in self-promotion, and these notions can definitely leave a bad taste in a person’s mouth,” she says.

But a better definition of networking, offered by Zack, is building “mutually beneficial” connections one person at a time. …

With the new framework for networking in place, Zack sets out a master plan for “introverts, the overwhelmed and the underconnected” for networking success, one social event at a time.

Here’s How:

Plan Ahead
Setting a goal for networking at an event is a great starting point for preparing yourself to succeed. Your goal can be as simple as, “I’m going to have a great time,” or as concrete as, “I’m going to walk away with three new business cards and follow up with them the next day.”

Prepare yourself to meet your goals by coming armed with questions for new acquaintances, answers you feel comfortable speaking about and tactics to help you feel as relaxed and social as possible.
Stagger your networking events throughout the month. “Don’t feel like to be a good networker you have to go to every event you hear about,” says Zack. …

Most people, she says, will crash and burn on an overwhelming schedule of events. To be responsible and effective networker, choose two to three events a month that you feel position you for success.
In choosing networking opportunities, Zack says the best strategy for success is picking events that you are inherently interested in and not necessary career-related….

Visiting card, business card, name card
Image via Wikipedia
Zack’s point is this: if you go to an event strictly to network, you might dread it and feel as if you’ve failed if you don’t walk away with a dozen new connections. But if you go to a seminar you’re interested in, you will not only be excited to go, but you will have gained something even if you leave with a single business card. An added bonus in choosing an event that interests you? Built-in talking points.

No matter what event you choose, make sure to register in advance. “You’re much more likely to bail if you don’t pre-register,” says Zack, who knows from first-hand experience how easy it is to backpedal out of events at the last minute. “…[When] you arrive you will find a printed nametag …, which makes you look good,” she says, “a lot better than stragglers who are scribbling their names down with a Sharpie.”


Work the Room
… [Another] early pointer from Zack is to never, ever arrive late. “It’s really the worst mistake you can make,” she says. “You get there and everyone’s already talking to each other, or talking in groups. … If you get there late, there’s a lot of noise, a lot of action, and worst of all you’ve got nowhere to go.”

Zack advises to make a rule of arriving within the first fifteen minutes of an event, when the mood is low-key and the number of attendees manageable. …

Once the pace of the event has picked up, use Zack’s top tactic for identifying people to talk to …. “I always tell people to get in a line,” she says, “which seems counterintuitive, but think about it: when you’re in line, you have two built in people to talk to. ...” Not only that, but again, there is a built-in talking point to make conversation easy.”

… [In] terms of promotion, Zack says that no one should feel pressured to come armed with an “elevator speech” to pitch themselves about the room. “But be prepared to ask questions, and prepare for them in return. …”


Take a Breather
… “Even within the context of an event, make sure to take a few pauses to simply not be talking to people,” [Zack] says.

One of the best ways to create “downtime” is to pause after each new acquaintance, step away and jot a few notes about them on the back of their card. … Other ways to take a breather include stepping out of the main room, checking your voicemail, “or pretending to check your voicemail!” says Zack, but it’s critical to take that time.


Check Out
Knowing how to best end a conversation within the context of a networking event is important, because you always want to end it before it fizzles out and you’re left with nothing to say. Zack offers two fail-proof exit strategies: “One of my favorites is ‘I promised I’d circulate the room, but it’s been great meeting you. Do you have a card?’ and the other is ‘I’m sure you want to meet other people, so I’ll let you go. Do you have a card?

The bottom line is that people are at events to meet people. Acknowledge it while the conversation is still upbeat and then move on. And don’t forget to smile.


Follow Up
Zack can’t stress this point enough: If you don’t follow up with people you meet at networking events, there was no point in going. … Follow up, and follow up quickly. Zack suggests the next day if it’s just a casual connection.

But if you’re looking for a favor, aim for the Friday following the event. “People are far more responsive and receptive and willing to say yes to things on a Friday,” says Zack. And if you really want to make a stellar impression with a follow up, go with a hand-written note. “They’re an endangered species, and they take three minutes. Consider them the supertool of networkers.”

Meghan CasserlyMeghan Casserly
I cover the juggle of work, life and play for smart, ambitious women.
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