For many introverts, including myself, networking is an absolute chore. When I think about networking events and all that is required of me to participate as a ‘normal’ human, I find myself wishing I could stay at home and clean my bathroom rather than attend. It’s at this point that I remind myself of the first time I had to network completely cold and how it turned out to be a success.
Before Mirror Balls & Confetti, I ran a fashion website. Early on it became apparent that my website was getting more readers from the west coast of the US than any other country, including my own. I decided that what I needed was a PR firm to help me build on this, and I would need to go to Los Angeles and meet people. How was I going to do this? I don’t even answer my phone when it rings never mind getting in touch with complete strangers to ask if they would be interested in representing me. It wasn’t anxiety about making the calls per se, it was about being able to sustain an enthusiastic one-on-one conversation and ‘think on my feet’.
I did what I believe a lot of introverts do very well – research. With the help of Google and LinkedIn, I compiled a list of boutique PR firms in Los Angeles. I researched each one further before deciding on a final list of ten. Armed with what I already knew about them I composed and sent my first email to each firm introducing myself, my website, my current needs, and the dates when I would be in LA.
I had varying responses. Some clearly weren’t interested in working with me at all but were kind enough to reply. Some were keen and wanted to know more about my website and my PR needs. From this step, I got my final wish list down to five agencies who I wanted to meet with in person and get to know further. By this point, my anxiety had decreased and I had started to get excited at the opportunities that lay before me.
I then prepared a detailed document outlining my current position, my goals for the website, along with statistics and any other information I felt ‘painted the picture’, and sent it to each of the five firms.
One agency was ahead of the game right from the get-go in that they delivered (via email) their entire proposal for managing my PR needs before I had even gotten on the plane. This increased my confidence even more.
By the time I sat down with all five publicists face to face I had enough information and a ‘feeling’ about each of them, and hopefully vice versa, to make the conversation practically effortless. Each meeting achieved the primary objective for me which was to walk away with all of the information I needed to decide which firm to engage as my publicist.
All of the above, except of course the final meetings, was done via email. There were no phone/video calls, no coffee meetings just to exchange paperwork.
You may be thinking, OK but you were looking for a business that could provide you with a specific service, how is that networking? AND you met with one or two people at a time, not a whole room of people. For me it’s definitely networking because even though I went with one firm in the end, I maintained contact with at least three other people I had met with face to face. They became part of my business network, and still are four years later. They also introduced me to other people who are now part of my network as well. Yes, I was only meeting a fraction of the people I would face at a networking event, but it still required a great deal of effort on my part to build up the courage to meet everyone I needed to face to face.
When you walk into a networking event, your professional needs may be less immediate than mine were but you are there with the purpose of establishing professional relationships that may bear fruit in the future.
As introverts, we have so many strengths. Nearly every single article I read in the lead-up to writing this one, talked about using research as a tool to help introverts network with confidence.
For example, if you are able to get a list of attendees to the event you’ve been invited to, hop on LinkedIn and find people on the list that you have the most in common with. Send a friendly email, say that you’re attending the same event and that you hope you’ll have the opportunity to speak to them. Get on the front foot while in the privacy of your home or office. This simple step will reduce small talk considerably, and establish a connection that you wouldn’t have had if you went into the event cold.
If you’re in business, networking in some form is unavoidable, but you can do it on your terms. Take a step forward in a way that you are most comfortable with, and who knows? You may gain a professional advantage that you wouldn’t have gotten if you’d stayed at home to clean your bathroom.