Networking for the Introverted
If you’re shy, we would like to dedicate this particular issue on networking to you. This is for those who have never really gotten comfortable with—or who have never felt good at—starting conversations with perfect strangers. And yet witnessing and meeting new people is something we do practically every day.
If you’re the type who gets nervous even just thinking about having to strike up a conversation with a stranger, you will be happy to know that networking is still for you. There are a few tips and tricks of the networking trade that—when combined with the grace and support the Lord offers—can help relieve that anxiety and make it easier for you to feel more comfortable and natural conversing with others. Following are a few pointers from “Networking Guide for the Introverted,” by Judy Austin. As you read this article, try to picture yourself entering an office, or attending a retreat or function or fundraising event, or meeting up with your peers at an area coffee shop, or university activity, etc.
You walk in and … gulp …
I Share Your Pain
As a self-proclaimed introvert, I relate to your pain. When it comes to networking events, we are all confronted with the daunting challenge of entering a room filled with strangers talking and shaking hands. We want to be like them, the carefree and confident, those who smile and wave to everyone as they walk by and are drawn into new conversations easily. But not you. Before you leave for the event, you try to convince yourself you have more work and your time is best served staying in the office or at home, but argh, you *RSVPed! While you drive to the venue you are already dreading the experience, wondering if there’s still time to bail. By the time you park and are walking to your destination your heart beats faster, you start to think how short you can make your cameo appearance and leave. Does this saga sound familiar?
Well, first of all, know that most people in the world are just like you—introverted! Second, being introverted is nothing to be ashamed of! Recognize who you are and be proud. And though we cannot change our DNA, here are a few techniques to ease the anxiety level and make group networking experiences more manageable and comfortable.
Volunteer — Sign up to volunteer at the event if possible. This affords you the status of being knowledgeable about the event and able to help others. Mentally you now have an official reason for being there. Think of yourself as more than just the regular attendee—you are part of the host team!
Early Bird — Much of the intimidation factor is the sheer size of the audience. So arrive very early, even offer to help set up. This gives you a chance to meet the organizers and other volunteers in a small setting. Busy work will help take your mind off the event and knowing the hosts makes you feel like a part of the team. Often they will repay you for your help by making some introductions.
Don’t Worry, Be Comfy — You will feel how you dress. You are already going to be nervous and stiff so don’t make it worse by wearing an itchy wool suit or stuffing yourself into an outfit you don’t really like and doesn’t flatter you. Wear something that you believe you look good in—if you think you look good you will feel good. Wear something comfortable. If you prefer a suit—wear one you really like, if you typically dress casual then allow yourself to be comfortable and still look professional. (Editor: It is of course important to take into account the dress code of the event and/or culture; dress appropriately.)
Co-Pilot — Attend with a friend who is in a different business and help each other navigate the crowd. If you can go with someone who is more extroverted that is even better, but the goal is having a wingman/woman. It’s much easier and less stressful to travel in a group. You can take turns introducing each other to new people, allowing your friend to talk about you and what you do. As a dynamic duo you can approach others as a team and neither of you will feel all alone in a swirling sea of networkers.
Seek Out Your Fellow Introverts — Like a beached whale they are often not hard to spot—look against the walls, columns or other obstacles where they frequently attempt to camouflage themselves into the room! Others will stand in the middle with their snack observing the action all around trying to be invisible. Approach such folks and introduce yourself—they are just as uncomfortable and anxious as you. This allows you to practice approaching others. You may even find a buddy to work the room with. (Editor: And of course, you approaching the person to help break the ice and make them feel comfortable, to draw them out, will likely go a long way in your personal witness and sample to them. Who knows what doors might open through this simple act of approaching someone shy and making them feel at ease.)
Set Goals — Much like a fear of heights, a fear of networking and interacting among a room of strangers cannot be conquered in one day. Baby steps. Do not expect to incorporate all these suggestions at once. Integrate them slowly into your networking practice. Goals aid this process. Never set a goal in which you commit to yourself to stay for X period of time—all you will do in that case is monitor your watch like it’s 10 minutes to midnight on New Year’s Eve. Set goals that involve meeting people: For example, commit to introducing yourself to five new people and reconnecting with five others you already know to catch up. When you reach your goals you can leave, patting yourself on the back for a job well done.
Follow Up — You have overcome your doubts, fought through discomfort and achieved your goals! Don’t waste all that energy and exciting progress by not following up on those you met. This is the crucial step! How you respond sets the tone for who you are and how others remember you. Send each person an individual message, be it a phone call, email, or note card—make it memorable and personalize the message. No room for generic stuff here! For those whom you want to meet again, simply invite them to have lunch or coffee.
Face to Face — This is where you shine! You can engage in a one-on-one conversation and truly spend energy getting to know someone on a personal and professional level. Relationships start with a face to face conversation. Such meetings are why you endured and pushed yourself. Don’t launch into your sales pitch or dominate the conversation. Show genuine interest in them as a person—what they do outside work, their family, their dreams, etc. Think—how can you help them in terms of connecting them with others you know? They are testing your human being factor. Make sure you pass.
A word from Mama
Mama: In the Family, you’re trained all your life to meet new people, both young and old, to present the Gospel and our Gospel tools to them. It’s your life to reach out to others in this way, and even if it’s hard for some of you who consider yourself shy, you learn and grow and make progress in it for the sake of others. So you’re miles ahead of most people, who have little incentive at all to grow in this area. So the practice and help from the Lord that we get in overcoming our shyness is a benefit of being in the Family.
If you’re feeling nervous, you’re thinking too much about yourself. [Networking] is about making the other person feel important.—Diane Darling
Jesus: Concentrate on how I can help you to overcome this shyness. I can make you bold through the Holy Spirit, I can turn that weakness into an asset. Once you’ve changed your attitude, then work at changing your actions. Set goals each time you go out witnessing or on follow-up. Push yourself further each day. Quit thinking about yourself and your shyness and what people are thinking about you. Realize that most people are preoccupied with themselves. They’re worrying about themselves; they’re not nearly as critical of you as you think they are. So break free of that shyness, timidity and pride, and let love and concern for others take you over. That’s a goal worth fighting for, and that will make the Offensive the amazing adventure that it should be.
Do the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it. …That is the quickest and surest way ever yet discovered to conquer fear.—Dale Carnegie
The keys of boldness cause you to shine with power that commands attention and draws those who see it closer to Me.The keys of boldness quench shyness; the keys of confidence banish insecurity and fear; and the keys of understanding will give you the wisdom of all ages.Stand tall with the power of the keys that give My brides boldness and cause you to take pride in being Mine.
The Meaning of R.S.V.P.—Let’s Clear Up the Confusion
The term R.S.V.P. comes from the French expression “répondez s’il vous plaît”, meaning “please respond”. If R.S.V.P. is written on an invitation it means the invited guest must tell the host whether or not they plan to attend the party. It does not mean to respond only if you’re coming, and it does not mean respond only if you’re not coming (the expression “regrets only” is reserved for that instance). It means the host needs a definite head count for the planned event, and needs it by the date specified on the invitation.
So the next time you see R.S.V.P. on an invitation you receive, please call your host and respond promptly.