PRSA Portland Metro Chapter

Networking Column: An Introvert’s How To Guide to Networking

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Mar 15

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By Julie Williams, APR, MS

“Well, that’s easy for you to do, but you’re not an introvert like me,” commented a woman at a networking workshop I taught recently.

We were talking about leveraging relationships for mutually beneficial outcomes, a.k.a. networking. Of course, in order to leverage, you need relationships to begin with, which means you need to meet people. Usually a lot. That often starts with walking into a room full of strangers at cocktail hour knowing only one person: yourself.

Because I was at the front of the room, the woman assumed that was easy for me. But, that was exactly the scenario that would put me into a cold sweat 10 years ago. I hated big rooms swarming with people, nudging my 5’2” petite frame up to the bar and the awkward half hug with semi-acquaintances (which I still mess up). A Myers-Briggs personality test labeled me “INTJ”: Introvert, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging.

No wonder I preferred working alone and going to coffee more than parties. Sound familiar?

Introversion

As Susan Cain reminds us in her book, Quiet, “we live in a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal–the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.” Not the quiet, thoughtful, meaning-seeking nature of introverts. Not sure what you are? Take Cain’s quiz.

In order to build my graduate school degree into a career in communications it became clear to me: I needed to learn extroverted networking skills to succeed in my field and in my business. Through much trial and error, I figured out how to tap into my extrovert while staying true to myself. How? Connecting with my core values to make networking come more naturally.

Meaningful Connections

Because relationships, learning and community are so important to me, networking became a fun game of connections. In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell introduces “Connectors” as people who have “an instinctive and natural gift for making social connections.”

Make the most social connections and you will have the biggest, most active and useful network – a community of relationships learning and sharing together.

Who’s most inclined to be connectors? Anyone working in communications. And, especially, the one-third to half of us who are introverts (at least in America).

Guide to Networking

Let’s explore examples of how core values can turn an overwhelming event into an intimate, comfortable experience. (And, yes, fellow introverts, you have to first sign up and then actually go to the event).

  • Relationships: Every person you meet is a potential relationship, an opportunity to share a moment of meaning between your lives. Getting a drink of water, usually on the perimeter of the room, allows time to survey the crowd. Pick out someone who looks like “your people” and approach him or her.
  • Learning: A key way to discover new information is listening. So, ask this potential new friend an easy, vague question. My favorite is “What’s your story?” They will dive in or stammer (most often). Either way, a conversation has started.
  • Community Building: Having one in-depth conversation, sharing stories and exchanging business cards is worth more than meeting 20 random people.For conversation to become community, it requires timely follow up with an email, Linkedin request or note, plus eventually introductions to others with shared interests and needs.

Self-Evaluation

What are your core values? How do these benefit you in building an interconnected network of people and communities? What are ways you can experiment and grow your networking skills?

Get Started Networking

  • Sign up for an event (Perhaps the 20th annual Communicators Conference on May 8.)
  • Get a friend or colleague to sign up too and be your wingperson.
  • Read about current events to prepare for in-depth conversations.
  • Pick out a person and go talk to her or him (bring your buddy).
  • Treat yourself with several hours of quiet time after the event.
  • Follow up on your conversation with that person.
  • Rinse and repeat about 100 times.

Julie Williams, APR, MS, is owner of Versatile Creative Consulting, providing strategic communications counsel to social enterprises, and a PRSA Portland Metro chapter member since 2010. For more tips and news, follow Practical PR for Life on Facebook, find Julie on Twitter @oregonintegrity or say hello@versatilecreative.co!

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