Introverts tend to suffer a lot in a world where interpersonal relations drive professional engagements. Unfortunately, most industries, sectors, and businesses operate on this. Networking is a big problem for many extremely talented and innovative individuals. In fact, colloquially speaking, the real innovators of the world are usually socially awkward. The traditional way for these socially awkward geniuses to succeed in this world is to learn to network. However, networking is an instinctive talent that, when forced, can result in a lot of anxiety. Logically speaking, networking for the socially awkward shouldn’t really be a problem but it is largely because of the emotions involved.
The trick, therefore, is to find situations that are less emotionally demanding or getting those emotions in check in the usual situations. This means having a structure to follow and a plan to fall back on. Here are 5 tips on networking for the socially awkward that will help you get beyond the boogieman that is interpersonal interaction.
Networking for the Socially Awkward Tip #1: Join a Relevant Group or Association of Professionals
The reason why introverts fear networking is because it is like sticking your head out of a hole that you’re familiar with. It is the uncertainty and the unpredictability of the situations that prevent them from initiating new conversations with strangers in new situations. Of these three things, two can be dealt with very easily i.e. new conversations and new situations. The best way to do this is to join a group or association of professionals. Networking for the socially awkward becomes easy within such groups because of two reasons.
The first is that the other people in the group will be from the same profession, have similar interests, and have interest in similar subjects. With so much common ground, the conversations will never be new because they’ll be about things that the individual already knows. The other reason is that these types of groups meet often enough that the scenario ceases to be new.
In addition to offline groups and associations, an even easier method is to do this online. There are enough communities online such as social media groups, forums and even blog comments’ sections where the intermingling of likeminded individuals occur. In fact, this type of networking is far easier for socially awkward geniuses.
Networking for the Socially Awkward Tip #2: Focus on Quality Interactions Instead Of Quantity
As mentioned earlier, the reason why networking for the socially awkward is so difficult is the emotions surrounding the entire experience. A lot of the emotional pressure surrounding such experiences is created by the individual himself. For example, it is common for an individual to go into a networking situation expecting multiple successes. Networking, by definition, is being in touch with people but nowhere does that definition include anything pertaining to knowing a large number of people.
You can come out of a networking situation with only one or two tangible contacts and consider the entire exercise a big success. It is better to make lasting contact with a few people than to make transient acquaintances because the former will last much longer than the latter. Therefore, next time you go to a meeting or a party, aim for a couple of decent contacts and you’ll feel the pressure lift off your shoulders instantaneously.
Networking for the Socially Awkward Tip #3: Develop a List of Openings or Icebreakers
Starting a conversation is the most difficult. Starting it with a stranger is even more so. Having a list of openings or icebreakers is a good way to approach any networking scenario. At the same time, though, you can’t have generic openings such as “hi, how are you”. Those almost never work because the answers are equally generic. Does “Hi, I’m fine, thank you” inspire anything in you. It does not. The trick is to have a list of things you can resort to when approaching someone.
The first is obviously asking someone you know already to introduce you to people. This is a simple method and doesn’t require any openings. You could include anything on your list from “comment on an item of clothing”, “ask something about the event”, “talk about food or a restaurant nearby”, or even “something to do with travelling”. These are all easy openings that almost always result in an extended conversation.
Networking for the Socially Awkward Tip #4: Create or Get Speaking Arrangements
When you’re attending someone else’s event, you’ll always feel like a supplicant because you’ll be approaching others. This can be a major obstacle for many people. A good way to get around this problem is to become a speaker. You can either create your own speaking opportunity or get one at a neutral location. The way to create your own speaking opportunity is to host your own events. This wasn’t possible a few years ago but it is very common today because of the internet. You can now host online webinars and even create podcasts for people.
It is also possible to get speaking opportunities in various events. Organisations, associations, educational institutions, and even conference planners are always on the lookout for speakers to fill up their programming. If you have some kind of an expertise in some field, discipline, or area, then you can look for speaking opportunities. As a speaker, you can open the floor for a question-answer session, where your audience will be able to ask you questions. This will be the icebreaker for many. After this, you’ll generally see one or two individuals from the audience approaching you for a direct discussion.
Networking for the Socially Awkward Tip #5: Make People Come To You for Networking
Just like speaking opportunities can bring people to you, there are other activities that can do the same. The trick is to become someone that others would want to try to network with. This is about becoming an industry authority. You can become more well-known in your chosen discipline in various ways. Speaking at events will bring you into the spotlight and people will soon start seeing you as an expert speaker on your chosen subject.
However, speaking does require a certain comfort with large audiences that most people don’t have. While it is true that the more a person speaks in public, the more confident he gets, starting the process can be difficult for many. Luckily, you don’t have to rely on speaking opportunities to be seen as an expert in your field today. You can become an expert from the comfort of your home by establishing and running some digital media properties.
We’ve already mentioned podcast and online webinars in the first point. In addition to these, you can establish a video channel, a blog, or even a full-fledged website. You’ll need to focus on innovation and community engagement with your website if you want to truly have an impact in the industry and become a recognisable name. When you create such a platform for your peers to participate in, networking will cease to be a problem for you.