I am an introvert. Ask me to go to a ‘networking event’ and my energy level drops to zero. Encourage me to come early for the social hour and mingle, and I may get a bit nauseous. I’m just not very good at that kind of surface chit-chat. I’m getting a little better at it, but I avoid it if possible. I always feel guilty for taking up space with my silence at those things.
Don’t get me wrong. I am an active networker. Ask anyone; I’m connected allover the place, in many different directions. I just approach it in a little different way, especially the face-to-face networking.
Instead of spending hours ‘socializing’ at networking events, I find other ways to rub shoulders with people. One of those ways is volunteering at the gift shop for our local arts organization, The Crossing Arts Alliance. I’m there almost every week for an afternoon or so. Through that I’ve gotten to know several of the people involved in the organization. I am not just a face and business card to them. I’m someone who is truly part of their circle of life. You’ll now find me listed as one of their featured artists on their webpage.
For the face-to-face thing, don’t ‘network,’ just get involved in an organization or use my other tactic (if you fit into my introvert type) — invite people to meet you for coffee. I just did that last week.
There’s another freelancer in my area who recently did a community ed class on blogging. I’ve been thinking about doing something similar on freelance writing, so I was really curious how that class went for her, but we’ve never met. Finally, I decided to just connect with her on Linkedin and ask her. We’ve got a coffee date setup to share our knowledge with one another next week.
I also network online through blogs, twitter and facebook. That’s a lot easier for the introvert. No awkward silences or having to meet someone eye-to-eye. Plus, the conversations tend to be more direct and to the point.
You just have to think outside the box. I always approach problems by asking myself, ‘What is the end result that I want to accomplish?’ and then look for ways to do it. Networking is about making connections with people. How you do that is quite irrelevant. Find what works for you and you’ll do just fine. Don’t bother with trying to fit someone else’s mold.