Let’s be honest. Networking is not always terribly popular. Most people seem to know that it’s important in some (vague) way, but they still don’t really want to do it. (What has two thumbs and did not like networking at first? This gal right here.)
Networking conjures images of awkward conversations with strangers. Eh.
For introverts, networking is often approached with even more discomfort than the average person. In general, introverts thrive in small, close-knit groups. They’re easily tired out by large crowds and meeting lots of new people at once. (Which pretty much sounds… exactly like networking.)
As an introvert myself, let me tell you, I was initially very intimidated. I would come up with all sorts of excuses not to go to events I was invited to, even though they would have been very good for my career. Eventually, though, I realized that all I needed to get through networking was a plan of action. What makes an anxious introvert feel better about new things? Preparation.
Networking really doesn’t have to be as bad as you’re imagining. In fact, just like anything, it simply takes practice and preparation to make it less painful, and to eventually become good at it. Once you gain a little confidence in your networking skills, it gets easier and easier.
Before we get to the nitty-gritty, let me emphasize:
Networking is beneficial for every single person, no matter your career. Even when you feel intimidated by networking, please give it a try. It’s essential for a healthy business, and despite your thoughts to the contrary, it can actually make your life easier. How? Because networking is all about building supportive relationships. Read on.
Don’t forget to download your free worksheet, A Comprehensive List of Networking Opportunities for Acupuncturists:
Why is networking specifically important for acupuncturists?
- Letting your community get to know and trust you: A business like acupuncture is built on trust. Acupuncture is unfamiliar to most people, and they may be nervous about it for this reason. Once people get to know and trust you, they’re much more likely to be bold and give acupuncture a try.
- The opportunity to teach people about acupuncture and explain what it can treat, and that it’s safe and not scary.
- Generating referrals.
- Meeting people who can potentially refer patients to you.
- Meeting people who have expertise that you lack, and who can make running your practice easier. (Accountants, marketing specialists, etc.)
- Potential to meet new practitioners who could potentially rent space in your office, should you ever want to do that.
- Potential to find new office space, should you ever need to move.
- Opportunity to understand what your community needs, so you can better serve the people in your area.
The point is that networking is essential: It provides opportunities that you can’t even dream of right now. It gives you resources in case you need help in the future. It allows you to know how to best give back to your community. It builds your business in the best way – on a person-to-person basis.
Even if you don’t want to do it, it’s a must. At least, that has been my personal experience. I’ve known plenty of people who have the jobs and opportunities they have now, thanks to their networking contacts. (Including myself.)
Let’s get to it. First, get on the interwebs and reserve a seat for yourself at a networking event that’s coming up in a few weeks. Local Chambers of Commerce are a great place to start.
Why give yourself a few weeks? That way you have plenty of time to prepare.
12 Networking Tips for Introverts (Or Anyone Who Doesn’t Like Networking):
1. Bring a friend.
No one said you have to go alone, and hallelujah for that! Bring a friend or a work colleague. Or bring several coworkers and go as a group. You’ll feel much less awkward knowing you have someone to fall back on if conversations run dry, and you won’t have to approach strangers alone.
2. Realize that you don’t have to stay the whole time.
Give yourself goals regarding how long you’re going to stay, how many new people you’re going to talk to, or how many business cards you’re going to give out. Once you’ve met these minimum goals, give yourself permission to leave.
For example, maybe the event is an hour and a half long. You can decide before you go that you’re only staying for 25 minutes, and you only need to meet five people, and then you can leave.
You might find that you end up staying longer and talking to more people, once you get a little more comfortable. And even if you don’t, at least you achieved your goal and met five new people. Go you! This is light years better than staying at home in your cat pajamas.
3. Practice your elevator speeches ahead of time.
An elevator speech is your thirty second speech that gets across who you are and what you do. It’s succinct and delivers a lot of information in a short period. It’s called an elevator speech because the idea is to imagine that you’re in an elevator with someone and they ask what you do. You only have the brief length of the elevator ride to get your points across clearly.
The idea is to practice it until you’ve memorized it, so the words roll of your tongue effortlessly. You don’t want to sound rehearsed, just natural. But memorizing it is helpful because it allows you to sound confident and knowledgeable, as opposed to rambling because of nervousness.
You can create elevator speeches to answer a range of common questions that come up at networking events. For example, you could have speeches that answer the following questions:
“What do you do?”
“What is acupuncture? How does it work?”
“Herbal medicine? Is that a thing?”
As Arthur Ashe reinforces, “One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.”
4. Think of networking as relationship building, not for the hard sale.
This tip is from The Week, and might be the most important suggestion of all, because it’s about mindset. Many people avoid networking because they hate feeling like they are only there to sell themselves. It doesn’t feel genuine to them, and that feels yucky.
But that’s the wrong mindset. Ultimately, networking is just a way to create mutually beneficial relationships. And there’s nothing sales-y about that. Maybe you can help the people you meet at networking events, and they, in turn, can help you. But you won’t know until you meet them! Think of it simply as making the acquaintance of other nice people, and seeing where that takes you all in the future. No sales-push pressure necessary.
5. Remember that other people at networking meetings are likely nervous too.
Talking to strangers is considered at least a little uncomfortable for most people. So remember: Everyone is in the same awkward boat. People are generally nice, and the others you meet at networking events are hoping for the same thing you are – to have nice conversations with people who will listen to them for a few minutes, and then take their business card.
6. Look for “Speed Networking” in your area.
I went to a speed networking event once and I think it’s the perfect concept for introverts. Speed networking is just like speed dating. It’s set up so that you only have a few minutes with each person before you must move on to the next person.
This fast pace eliminates the awkward silence that can sometimes occur in conversation, because there simply isn’t time for it. And, you get a lot of bang for your buck. You meet more people, and give out more business cards, in less time.
7. Host networking in your own office, or any place where you feel especially comfortable.
If you host your local Chamber of Commerce’s networking event in your own safe space, then you may feel less nervous because you’re in control. You can decide how the evening will go, how long it will last, and who’s invited. You don’t have to figure out how to get there, or worry about getting lost. Because you get to call the shots, you can make it as comfortable for you as possible.
8. Know how you’re going answer difficult questions or respond to nay-sayers.
Don’t let surprise rude questions make you feel cornered. Be prepared with your answers to these questions like you would prepare your elevator speech:
A. Does acupuncture really work?
B. I read some research that says acupuncture doesn’t really work.
C. I tried acupuncture once (or my mom/grandma/pet raccoon tried it) and it was an awful experience.
But don’t get worked up. I don’t think you’re going to encounter too many negative or nay-saying people. Again, most people at networking events are there to be friendly and make a good impression for the sake of their own businesses. But if being prepared is something that makes you more likely to try networking, then prepare for these (rare) questions as well.
9. Listen and ask questions more than you talk, to be considered an excellent conversationalist.
I don’t remember where I first read this. Perhaps Honora Wolfe’s book? But I have found this to be true over and over again.
The best listeners are actually considered the best conversationalists. Most people like to talk about themselves. If you give the other person the opportunity to talk, and ask brief, interested questions, the other person will feel pleased that they had a meaningful conversation, and is more likely to remember talking with you than with someone else.
Of course, you want to be able to talk about what you do, as well, since that’s the whole reason you went to the networking meeting. But overall, the idea is to be engaged when your partner is talking, by listening and asking pertinent questions. (As opposed to just nodding, agreeing, or trying to bring the conversation immediately back around to yourself.)
And, the amount of talking you have to do to be considered a fabulous conversationalist and deep thinker is minimal. Woo for that!
10. Decide ahead of time what questions you’re going to ask to get the conversation started.
If you memorize two or three ice-breaker questions, it will help prevent that awkward silence that can come right after introductions. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Better Than Before, recommends two important tips:
1) Ask questions that can’t be answered with yes or no. You want to keep the conversation rolling, not let it stall out immediately.
2) Ask questions about things you have in common. If you just met at a networking event, that can include the food, the building, the music, etc. Even something as simple as, “Have you tried the shrimp yet?” can get you started.
One of my favorite methods is to ask a new acquaintance about their background:
“How did you get into construction?” or “What made you decide to become a doctor?” “How long have you been in real estate?” “What’s your favorite part of being a massage therapist?” “Interesting! What kind of training do you have to go through to become an inspector for gas stations?”
There are tons of ways to get people talking right away. Leave your suggestions in the comments below!
11. Smile and be positive.
This makes networking less awkward and more comfortable for everyone, not just the introverts, of course. Networking is not the place for complaining, soap boxing, or being negative in general. Keep it light, positive, and supportive of the other people. That’s what you’re there for, right? To be supportive of others, in the hope that they’ll be supportive of you, too. That’s relationship building.
12. Ask for introductions.
Often the hardest part of networking meetings is walking up to someone new and introducing yourself. Let’s be honest. It takes practice to feel confident with that. But if you know someone at the meeting, start out by chatting with that person. Then, ask them if they would mind introducing you around to a few people they think you should meet. It’s likely that person will be flattered and happy to do it.
So what’s the big picture? The takeaway?
To make networking painless and a successful use of your time, bring a friend or work colleague, and be as prepared as you can.
Don’t forget to download your free worksheet, A Comprehensive List of Networking Opportunities for Acupuncturists:
Want more? Check out these articles on how to have more productive, less awkward conversations:
1. Forbes.com: “13 Ways You Can Have More Meaningful Conversations.” This article is excellent. My favorite tips are “Do your research without being creepy” and “Let people sell themselves.” Wise words for networking.
2. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Better Than Before: “How to Know When You’re Boring Someone.” If you’re getting these signals, don’t get down on yourself. Simply use them as a constructive indication that it’s time to move on to a new topic.
Cover image via Pexels.com