When you hear the word “networking” what emotion does it provoke? Anxiety? Dread? Nervousness?
If you’re an extrovert or even just an all-round “people person”, it could evoke a sense of thrill or excitement at the thought of meeting someone new. Someone who previously wasn’t a part of your world. The endless possibilities may stir up the urge to make the first introduction.
Well, that’s not me. As a writer, I may have the ability to enter the mind of an extrovert and accurately express their emotions through words, but, networking? Sweat beads form along my brow line and upper lip merely at the thought of it!
A necessary evil
Working in professional services as a consultant, there was no escaping the activity of networking. It was a necessary evil to perform my role effectively.
Perhaps you can relate? Maybe you have a list of strategies tucked into your back pocket that you pull out the moment you’re about to step into a crowded room. You’ve mastered that self-talk to convince yourself the benefits outweigh the discomfort you experience. At least for the next few hours or so.
The new world
Then came the Covid-19 global pandemic and the concept of networking was turned on its head. You were just getting good at in-person networking, now you have to figure out online networking?! From social media algorithms to LinkedIn stories and Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting, the inevitability of change only seems to push us to keep learning and growing.
If you’re an introvert (like me), look at it as an opportunity. For now, your fidgeting fingers and buckling knees will go unnoticed by the person you’re interacting with. Win! Body language becomes less of an issue and words and tone become the focus. Finally, things you’re good at!
While online networking may be familiar to social media influencers, it’s unfamiliar territory to those of use who are used to conducting our business in a physical environment. So, how do we conquer online networking, especially for us introverts who hold negative associations with the activity?
How to network online
1. Find your kindred spirits
If the fear of not knowing what to say or saying the wrong thing to the person on the other side of the screen keeps you up at night, start by finding kindred spirits. Find like-minded people who have similar interests as you and you’ll have much to talk about!
This builds your confidence to eventually reach out to others who may be out of your comfort zone. That’s where you discover the unexpected opportunities.
2. Build over time
I could think of nothing worse than small talk. Talking about the weather, what I did on the weekend, the latest news story – not my idea of an enjoyable conversation.
But when the conversation begins to venture into something deeper, I’m all in! Yes, I’m that person who will willingly share what drives me and gives me a sense of purpose with someone I just met. Or didn’t you notice by the name I gave my business?
What I’m saying is, it’s okay to prioritise making a meaningful connection with one person over a surface level connection with ten people. Online networking shouldn’t be merely a numbers game. Build the relationship over time and see where it takes you.
3. Be the first
Step out of your comfort zone and start a new conversation. Be the first to reach out to the other person. This positions you to steer the conversation in a direction you’re comfortable with.
In networking, there’s nothing worse than being stuck in a conversation about your most hated topic (politics?!). Don’t get yourself trapped inside that jail cell waiting for the guard to let you out, though it might not be your style, lead the conversation and create a positive networking experience.
4. Ask questions
Season the conversation by asking the other person questions about them. It tastes better in their mouth. Keep the focus on them and watch their face light up.
People generally love talking about themselves. It also takes the pressure off you having to think about what to say next or ways to keep the conversation interesting. You showing interest is all it takes.
5. Actually listen
Listening is like a superpower for introverts. Naturally, we tend to be better at active listening, that is, giving our full attention to the person speaking. Maybe it’s because we’re more comfortable when we’re not the one speaking.
Whatever the reason, this is a priceless skill in a world where everyone wants their voice heard but no one wants to listen. Use your superpower and build valuable connections!
That’s it. Five super easy ways to conquer online networking, written by an introvert to introverts. Not saying if you’re an extrovert, that you didn’t get a thing or two out of reading. I hope you did. I know I still have a lot to learn about online networking and I’m ready to take on the challenge!
Do you have any other tips or strategies you can share for how to network online successfully? If so, leave a comment below!
For more on how to maximise introversion in the workplace, read The power of being an introvert in a client facing role.
Oyelola is a freelance writer based in Sydney, Australia. She works closely with entrepreneurs and businesses in financial services, consulting and education, writing quality-rich content to engage their readers and motivate action. When not writing for clients, Oyelola provides insights on writing, wealth and work on her Phrased with Purpose blog and shares her faith journey on her personal blog, He Speaks, I Write.