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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Smart Networking

When it comes to making new connections, introverts get a bad rap, in spite of the fact that introversion and shyness are not the same thing. While extroverts are the life of the party, introverts do better in smaller, more intimate settings, and they tend to be better listeners and more inquisitive than their extroverted counterparts. Shyness is more about being socially awkward because you fear the judgements of others.

In terms of networking, though, all three personality types can benefit by heeding several bits of advice. That’s according to Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals. Here’s what she says you need to do to make the most of networking opportunities and garner valuable connections.

1. Manage Your Expectations

If you’re attending some kind of networking event, you don’t have to put pressure on yourself to meet a lot of people. “You can go to an event and be there for 20 to 30 minutes and make a great connection just by talking to one or two people,” she says. “One quality conversation is more beneficial than 20 superficial ones.”

2. Plan Some Ice-Breakers Ahead of Time

Shy people in particular have a hard time starting conversations with strangers, but doing a bit of homework before an event can help anyone come up with good questions to ask. Find out who will be at an event, and research the people you want to meet by looking them up on Google or LinkedIn. “Come up with a few questions as ice breakers,” Whitmore advises. “My typical go-to questions always revolve around food and travel, because everybody loves to eat and most everybody loves to travel.”

3. Set a Time Limit

Instead of committing to stay for the duration of an event, tell yourself you’ll only hang out for an hour, or some other chunk of time you’re comfortable with. The point is to take the pressure off yourself and just show up. “When you show up, you’re setting yourself up for success, because you never know who you’re going to meet, who you’re going to run into, and how it could help you build your professional or personal life,” she says.

4. Ask for an Introduction

This tip is a good one for anyone, regardless of your personality. Find someone who knows everyone and ask that person—maybe the individual hosting the event—to connect you with whomever it is you want to meet. “When you ask someone to introduce you, it holds a lot more weight versus going up to someone and introducing yourself, because the person you’re being introduced to sees you in a different light if somebody of importance or someone in authority is bringing you up to them,” Whitmore notes. “I use that when I’m dealing with VIPs, like if there’s a speaker in the room, I might go to the director of PR and say ‘Would you mind introducing me to the speaker tonight?’ and they’re happy to do it.”

5. Practice Empathetic Listening

Put yourself in another person’s shoes, and listen with the goal of learning something. “When you ask the person a question, listen...with the intent to understand and also to establish a connection with that person, because people tend to remember people they have a connection with.”

6. Share Personal Stories

Your personal stories are what make you interesting and memorable. “If you said to me ‘Oh, I love that pin you’re wearing,’ I could say ‘Oh, thank you’ and leave it at that. Or, I could say ‘Oh, thank you. This is my grandmother’s pin, and it came from England. When she was 12 years old, her father gave it to her.’ And it’s ‘Oh, really? My family is originally from England.’”

7. Practice Every Day

The more you network, the easier it gets, but you have to keep doing it. Even during the course of the workday, you can exercise this muscle by getting up, walking around, and starting brief conversations with co-workers. “If I’m heading to the water cooler and I see somebody I know, I might stop for a minute or two and ask that person ‘How is your day going? How was your weekend?’ just to stay in that networking practice,” Whitmore says.

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