Depending on the size of your comfort zone, networking often means stepping out of it. Approaching and mingling with strangers is stressful, and many people feel uncomfortable putting themselves out there. But if you assumed networking events were an extrovert’s playground, think again. Making meaningful connections has more to do with basic social psychology than the gift of extroversion.
Sometimes extroverts bypass this fact without even knowing it. Their disposition is often so sunny and inviting they make a great first impression. However, that’s only half the battle; if you’re not attentive and intuitive as you network with others, you risk doing more harm than good. Here, the introvert has a unique advantage.
If you’re on the quieter side, you might not even recognize how perceptive you are. You’re more aware (for better or worse), of another person’s mood, vocal inflections, and nonverbal cues. Watching what other people say, do, or don’t do is what a successful networking interaction is all about.
1. When you approach a person or group, watch for “traffic signals” to get your timing right.
If you prematurely join a group at a networking event, you run the risk of awkwardly waiting for conversational lulls to introduce yourself properly. Other times, you risk interrupting a discussion, creating a distracting first impression. Instead, when you consider whether to yield or join a group, look at body language cues.
Notice the eyes of your fellow networkers. If their eyes dart around the room or appear downcast, it signifies disinterest in the conversation. This signal is a “green light” to approach and introduce yourself.
Posture is another critical body language cue to watch. An engaging discussion looks like two or three people facing one another straight on–a “red light” for an outsider looking to join in. Offset shoulders, especially with torsos turned away from one another, indicate a lack of interest or that the conversation is coming to an end. At that point, others will be more receptive to greet you.
Finally, look for the international sign of boredom: people messing with their phones. Instinctively, you’ll probably feel this body language is unwelcoming. Humans are drawn to happy, smiley people, while negative cues act like a rattlesnake shaking its tail. But resist the urge to hesitate. You might just come to the rescue with your introduction.
2. Be careful not to “pounce” on the person you intend to network with.
It’s easy to startle a stranger by moving too swiftly toward them or sneaking up from behind. Instead, approach from the side, so your target has a chance to process your presence. Your intention to approach and introduce yourself will be recognized sooner, which is helpful as you’ll probably be moving a little fast from nerves. Once you’ve said hello, take a more natural facing position.
3. Avoid beginning a conversation with an observational comment.
General statements, such as comments about the weather or room temperature, often lead to conversational dead ends. Beginning with a question after your introduction, however, gets people talking and leads to common ground. Remember that successful discussions between two strangers start with topics that are relevant to both parties. Maybe this person works in the same industry as you. And if not, perhaps you have a friend or a relative that has a similar job. The point is to get them talking about a topic they love (themselves) while setting you up to eventually contribute.
4. Have an exit strategy.
Many people worry about starting conversations; few consider how to end one. Every conversation you have at a networking event will naturally arc and then begin to taper off. The skilled networker realizes this fact and knows when to depart on a high note, often sharing their card or other follow-up details. Other times, people fail to click, a fact that is just as important to recognize.
In either case, gracefully moving on from a conversation can be tricky. But creating a plausible excuse for excusing yourself can help your endgame run smoother. Don’t have to use the bathroom? Now you do. Explain how nice it was to meet them and use an excuse to more elegantly move on.
While there are enough tips out there to write a book on networking (and many have), you can create a framework to successful networking interactions by simply being conscious and considering other people’s thoughts and feelings. So, practice your elevator pitch, but don’t make it the focal point. If you’re able to interpret basic body language cues and social psychology, the rest will come more naturally than you’d think.
About Michael Evan Salley
With a Master’s in Construction Science and a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science, Michael Evan Salley is the project manager any construction company would want to lead their team. He possesses a strong work ethic and believes in doing things right every time. He is a results-driven problem solver looking forward to taking on new challenges and achieving team goals. With all the necessary education, work experience, and certifications, he is looking forward to the next opportunity to excel.
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