Your source for the social work profession in North Carolina.
by Hope Venetta Director of Professional Development, NASW-NC
I read a blog posting recently that changed my life. No, seriously. After spending my whole life thinking my personality was wired in an extroverted way, I read 23 Signs You’re Secretly an Introvert. It shed light on so much for me. I consider myself to be pretty outgoing, but this article helped me finally figure out why I sometimes find unstructured networking situations challenging. I won’t regurgitate the article for you, but I did want to hone in on something that may be beneficial to introverts and extroverts alike when it comes to networking events.
Networking. This single word can conjure up an overwhelming sense of dread for me. Hate small talk? Great, me too. It’s not that I find people uninteresting. I learned from the article that as an introvert I find small talk about the weather, etc. very disingenuous or phony when I have something very specific on my agenda. When I hear the word “networking”, I automatically think of a room full of people having Sienfeld-esque conversations about nothing. I’d rather just get down to business. Conversations about your kids, dogs, or your last vacation seems to me like something you’d want to share with friends and not with strangers. But that’s just me (and many introverts). Yes, I know people are multifaceted and personal relationships developed by networking are critical to cultivating good professional relationships in general. However, even though I know this, I am still challenged by the concept of swimming around in the “fishbowl”.
As evidence of my networking aversion, I am a notorious “no-show” to various networking events. As I mentioned before, it is clear that relationship building and networking is essential for one’s current job and for the future. So with that in mind, I routinely sign up to attend networking events so that I can stay connected to the business community. However, at the last minute I usually convince myself that doing laundry is more important than going to that after hours networking event. Can anyone relate? If so, I have a few tips here that have helped me get over my general discomfort in networking situations. Hopefully they can help you too.
I find that if I have a concrete purpose or a reason to speak to someone, it makes striking up a conversation with a complete stranger easier. You can engage with others and avoid small talk by:
1. Volunteering. Your association needs you, and this could be a great way to have a reason to talk to others in a particular group without feeling like a phony with small talk that, to the introvert, doesn’t matter.
a. Serve on a committee. By working with people you get to know them and their professional strengths over time. Those conversations about kids, dogs, etc. begin to mean something as you learn about them as a person and they get to know you as you work towards a common goal.
b. Help at the registration table during events. This is great because you get to meet everyone who shows up. If you bump into them again during the event, you are already viewed as someone in the know and worth talking to.
2. Playing a game. OK, this is my personal favorite. Have you ever gone on a scavenger hunt? Wasn’t it fun? Well that is exactly what this next suggestion is. If we met each other for the first time at a recent networking event, I was probably playing this game. You helped me with my aversion for networking and didn’t even know it! Here’s how it works, before the event I make a list of people I am tasking myself to meet. I’ll say I want to meet a redhead, 3 people wearing blue, someone from Charlotte, etc, etc. I make a list of about 20. Make it random, and fun for you. Then, at the event I seek them out. It looks like I am networking like everyone else, which I am, but mentally I am checking off a list and meeting some interesting people along the way. The list serves as my concrete reason to talk to someone and playing the game is my purpose. The side benefit is making connections with my peers.
3. Answering the question (W)hat’s (I)n (I)t (F)or (M)e? Well, not actually for you, but for them. What topic are people most knowledgeable about and love to talk about? Right, themselves. So use your introvert skill set of observing and absorbing information. Listening to people can make you a master connector. You’ll know what people’s needs are and you will know what their strengths are. Then, you can connect them with folks who can help them or at least point them in the right direction. That is the essence of professional networking. People will be amazed at how much of a linchpin you have become and will view you as a point person, or person in the know. All of which can help you along in your career. No small talk required.