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A wallflower blooms - networking tips for introverts

Monday, April 04, 2016

Though networking is a much valued tool in the business community, it is also a form of quasi-social-quasi-business interaction that fills introverts with a sense of absolute dread.  

If you have been an APIA member for a while, you would have undoubtedly heard us talk about how valuable networking is and how much knowledge you can gain just by showing up to a crowded room full of investors.  So lets say one day you take our advice, shack off your fear and come along to an hour long networking session pre-keynote only to find yourself squashed in the corner, fearful, sweaty and having no one to talk to.  You stand with a cup of lukewarm tea in your hands (builder's tea no less and not even any milk!) and start wondering what on earth compelled you to be there in the first place.  The room is full of animated conversations, none of which involves you and suddenly it feels like you are the only person left out of the secret club.  You inwardly curse at your naivety.  Too late to change course now, the car park warden has shut the gates and you can't possibly leave with making a scene.

If this sounds like the nightmare scenario that has been stopping you from networking at APIA events, then these tips are for you!  

1. Celebrate your introversion 

Introversion gets a lot of bad-rap.  Our cultural framework encourages the biased view that introversion is somehow lesser than extroversion, that  introverts are shy, socially inapt and the exact people to avoid at parties.  While we celebrate the success of big personalities such as Tony Robbins, we often confuse extroversion as being a prerequisite for business success.  That is not at all the case.  

Through her celebrated book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking and subsequent web success, Susan Cain has done some incredibly good work not only to empower introverts but also to increase the awareness of what introversion really is.  Perhaps the best way to describe what introversion is is to talk about what it is not.  Introversion is not shyness.  While shyness comes from an inward fear for negative judgment, introversion is a 'preference for a quiet, more minimally stimulated environment'.  Introverts 'enjoy quiet concentration, listen more than they talk and think before they speak'.  The great news for introverts is that you are blessed with the valuable skill of listening and you are confident in your views. 

So before you even tackle your fear of networking, celebrate your introversion and understand that you are as powerful an investor standing next to that APIA tea table as the next person who comes along.  Take a look at this awesome presentation by Susan Cain to draw more from your power as an introvert: 

2. Be purposeful 

Don't forget that networking has a very specific purpose, that is to help you form meaningful relationships.  Many introverts mistaken networking as a self-promotion junket where you have to work the room and charm everyone's pants off.  That is not the case.  Business networking is for you to reach out to your community of business operators, gleam relevant and valuable industry experience from each other and walk away with the wisdom of someone else's experience.  Each time you network with a stranger, stay focused and purposeful to maximise the benefits of the opportunity.  

3. Set up networking objectives and incentivise yourself 

Take some time before the networking session to set yourself specific objectives and achievement incentives.  For example, target to speak to at least five strangers throughout the session, have meaningful conversations with them including introduction and experience sharing and finally give yourself a tangible incentive you know you will enjoy such as a bowl of late night hot chips.  

4. Show up early

You should know by now that you are not shy.  The difference between you and your loudmouth cousin is simply that you draw your energy from a less stimulated environment (quieter, less people, less embellishments).  Use that knowledge to your advantage.  Attend the networking session early and take advantage of the opportunity to speak to people when there are less others around.  Also at the beginning of any social event is when people's friends are not yet there so they are more likely to talk to strangers. 

5. Learn to break in and break off a conversation gracefully 

Have you ever got stuck in that awkward situation where you inch yourself to an existing conversation only to find yourself standing on the proverbial sideline and never once having a chance to speak?  Learn to politely interrupt and amalgamate yourself into a conversation without disrupting its flow.  Also equally important is the skill to leave a conversation that is no longer serving a purpose.  This useful article shares some practical tips to help you do just that!

6. Facilitate opportunities for others to talk

This may sound counterintuitive but by being more of a facilitator rather than a contributor to the conversation, you are playing to your strength of being a good listener while putting a bigger portion of the heavy lifting (talking) to someone else.  Ask open ended questions like What do you look forward the most from today's speaker? not Are you looking forward to today's speaker.  Letting other people share their thoughts with you first can give you the opportunity to pick up queues and respond with your own views.  Remember back in our school days of praying not to be the first person the teacher calls out in class?

7. Want more? 

Can't get enough of Susan Cain?  Wrap up today's tips with this fantastically in-depth discussion on networking for introverts!

Networking is an incredibly powerful and instant way for investors to get a real-time feel of the market.  The networking opportunities we facilitate for our members are also the number one reason why successful investors renew their memberships with us year in and year out.  If you have been anxious about connecting with other investors in person, go through these tips and remember, taking incremental small steps is all you need to make a world of difference to your networking experience. 

Are you an introvert?  What are some of the tips you have to push yourself out there at business networking sessions?  Share your experience below!

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