I once took part in an astrology experiment where, along with 50 others, I was quizzed on my exact time and place of birth and was given a personality chart. Now, I am not a believer in mumbo jumbo but the uncanny thing was – they actually really nailed me. My co-participants were equally begrudgingly impressed – 95% of us agreed our personal insecurities had been revealed.
Turns out, we all received the same report. We all would be happier with about 20% more or less than we have (money, waistline, love, house size, time) and we all are shy going into a room full of strangers and 95% privately think deliberate networking is insincere and manipulative.
Networking for business — where you deliberately cultivate contacts for support, feedback, resources, sales and information —is the best way to carry your business forward bar none, and has all sorts of other benefits besides. It is, in fact, a good thing.
Some people are lucky enough to have “natural networks” that last a lifetime. If you were in the school First 15 and played for the Old Boys, this could be lucky you. But if you’re not one of these people with a million connections and are trying to reach out to make contacts in your community, you will need to build a network.
Which presents the dilemma: if the vast majority of us instinctively feel somewhat uncomfortable about deliberate networking (the others are out selling insurance to their grannies), but we know we need it, how do we start to feel more accepting about networking, and begin to enjoy it?
Let’s ditch, immediately, the sleazy pushers, the sales people reeking of insincerity, chummy with strangers and manipulative with friends and proverbial grannies. And let’s embrace the remaining 95% of the population who feel shy going into a room full of strangers and starting up a conversation with the purpose of making a connection that might be useful.
OK, so before you start googling the shy persons guide to networking meetings – seriously don’t, you’ll be there all day – here’s a collection of the best advice that I’ve read and learned as a shy networker.
- Start gently with a professional networking group where you can practice talking to people about business and to learn how to offer and accept support. BNI (Business Network International) is particularly good – it is upfront about its networking purpose and is well structured so everyone gets a chance to talk. Then branch out to more social events.
- Look at networking as a nudge to build relationships you might not otherwise come across. Let yourself be nudged.
- If you are networking with colleagues, ask your colleagues to make introductions and make sure to reciprocate.
- Stand alone with your head up when you are at a lose end. Most people have instinctive good manners and will include you or the host will find you. Maximum three minutes, not the end of the world. I’ve timed it.
- Repeat names on introductions. Say it aloud and look at them when you say it. Notice when people do this with you, it feels polite and welcoming.
- Find a mutual connection as an icebreaker with a new contact – a person, place, interest. It gives you two points of connection – you’ll be Joe’s friend who works in legal aid. Three points of connection and you’re in the memory, try for: Joe’s friend, legal aid, friendly smile.
- Be a good listener. That’s not so hard. Then wait for an opportunity where you can offer help.
- Accept help that is offered to you. Thank you, that would be really valuable. Thank you, yes.
- Follow up your introductions, make it count. A quick email to say you enjoyed meeting them and thanks for the tip. Now you’re connected.
- And if you worry about names and faces – go home, find a picture of the person you were just talking to (linked in profile, facebook…) and keep a little file of clippings to scan before the next event.
Networking, both naturally and deliberately, in lots of different circles, builds confidence, hones your presentation skills, helps business, grows communities and breaks down barriers, it cements relationships and yes! friendships, promotes understanding and even, eventually, could probably pretty much solve world peace.
Be nudged into networking.