To Thine Own Self (and Others) Be True: Networking Tips

I'm an introvert. I also have the good fortune of being brave, warm and genuinely interested in what other people think and have to say. When I first moved to Cambridge from Chicago, I didn't know a soul. I wasn't moving east for school, had no family within 900 miles and wasn't a person of faith who could draw on my religious affiliation to have a ready made "in" anywhere. For many, especially in the Boston area, this is a recipe for disaster.

Let me tell you how I made my personality work for me.

Be Open. In my experience, the only thing more powerful than my circumstances is the way I perceive them. I've often been accused of being capricious, but this love of exploration has been the thread running the course of my entire life. As a child, I meandered through the neighborhoods immediately surrounding my own on the southside of Chicago. As an adolescent, I rode the El with friends after school, often hitting O'Hare on the Blue line, Kimball on the Brown, and 95th on the Red once I felt it was time to come home. As an undergrad, I would routinely pull out a map of the continental U.S. and find a summer job in a city I'd chosen by closing my eyes and pointing.

Whether I was learning the value of contemplative walks in my neighborhood or developing a love affair with my beautiful hometown during my four hour daily high school commute, it can never be said that I didn't show up. My ability to connect is wholly tethered to my intentionally being in a space and making my time there mean something.

Manage Energy While Managing Time. Remember my opening line: I am an introvert. As a matter of fact, I'm an INFJ, the closest thing to a unicorn you're likely to encounter outside of billion-dollar startup circles. It's just as important to be in tune with what you can handle as when you're able to allocate time for it. I budget a lot of my connection energy into retaining information about the people I choose to engage, so I'm likely to know who I'd like to speak with, about what, and what value I might be able to bring to the table for them.

This is not a spiritual gift. This is information one can easily gather and a skill that's cultivated when we engage people warmly (so they share with you), listen intently (so they know their words land with you), and follow up soon after (so they know you're intentional and invested).

This is difficult to do if you're intent on speaking with everyone at a shindig and putting a card in every hand in between attempts to get on the microphone. I'm a fan of cultivating strategic connections so that all parties involved draw something genuine and meaningful from the exchange.

Helpful Tips:

Now that I've given you a bit of background, allow me to share some of my go-tos for networking events. Enjoy them!

1. Prep: Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is on point and your website (if applicable) has been updated in the last 2-3 weeks. Ain't a networking hiccup on earth worse than not appearing invested in your own online identity. Many people stress because they don't know how to convey that they're an insightful, wonderful person to know - which is why I suggest offering precious little (but fascinating) info right out the gate...and having your provocative interaction land squarely on a well-rounded online presence.

I wasn't sure how to configure a LinkedIn profile that did the speaking for me. After weeks of stressing about the order of the bullet points in my profile, I decided to highlight my work history in narrative form. The Biggest Lesson andCrowning Glory sections are a nice touch, dontcha think? ;)

2. The "Soft Pursuit": If RSVPs are visible, scan for folks you might've schmoozed with before and send a note about "loving to hear what they've been up to". Throw a lighthearted one-liner in there related to what you spoke about last time. When I've connected with people, their stories and searches become part of my networking landscape. When I'm moving in a space, I'm constantly thinking about how others might benefit from communities I'm a member of and connections I've already made. I don't believe in pulling up one chair - I believe in bringing people along with you...even if they're on the other side of the world.

...and in a world where who you know is a mighty factor, sending a little note along goes over a long way.

3. The "Open Door": If RSVPs are not visible (or you've never been acquainted with anyone listed) I'd encourage you to add your information - personal site, Twitter handle and enter a short blurb about your field. I love when hosts enable visible RSVPs on Eventbrite (Boston's Opus Affair also does this SO well) because it enables us to not only think about connections we're looking to forge...but how we can be helpful.

I strongly suggest being transparent about not knowing anyone in attendance. Welcome people to come over to chat. Add something corny like "I like long walks on the beach""Please ask me about the latest Scandal episode" or "I'll be wearing the red rose on my lapel". When you arrive, write your name on your tag, but add that Twitter handle too (if that's the sort of crowd). I love thatCoFoundersLab has a red dot for people looking to hire and blue ones for people looking for opportunities. Socializing for Justice encourages people to include something they want people to "ask them about".

If you play your cards right, dorkdom and warm hilarity will ensue and like-minded people will feel comfortable strolling up to say hi.

4. Know Thyself, Schmoozer: I pick the right networking event for my personality and am "on" when I show up. It is work, but a major part of introversion is managing and budgeting energy. On the flip side, don't attend a networking event with the intention of riding the energy of the room by attaching yourself to a cluster of people and waiting to be asked a barrage of uninspired questions.  Another habit that will render you persona non grata is neglecting other attendees by never thinking of their priorities and how you can be of use to them.

Just like your personal brand, your schmoozing ability is your own - and we sink and swim in direct relation to how able we are to engage and offer value to other people...as with all things in life.

5. Introversion, Shyness, Social Awkwardness: Introversion is often interpreted as shyness or social awkwardness, though they can be mutually exclusive. If you're shy, I suggest offering to volunteer for the initial half hour so you can greet attendees in an official capacity or showing up a few minutes early and chatting up the host. If you're shy, entering a space with scores of people (and energy) is far more intimidating / off-putting than helping to set the tone. In addition, I suggest the 90 degree rule: Keep your eyeline parallel to the floor - maintain reasonable eye contact and don't stare at those shoes! I'll admit: social awkwardness is something I've never experienced, so feel free to add your two cents in the comments!

6. "You Get a Card and You Get a Card!": I'm a card person. I like LinkedIn, but I love to be able to hand someone something when we walk away from our conversation. Sometimes, I pull out the collection of cards I've amassed during my time in Boston and I think about folks that need to "meet" each other, events that could benefit from a more diverse panel of speakers, and organizations that could enrich their industry if only they'd work together.

The initial hurdle for me was learning to take ownership of my skills...even if they were forged and improved upon in service of a company culture. When I was with my former employer, I didn't want to always be associated with them because my narrative and skills are my own. My insight and identity meet in ways that predate my time with any employer, and so do yours. I know we've got smartphones, but dear reader - get a card made. I am a minimalist, so my personal card is white with black type, with my name prominently featured and my website. LinkedIn is great, your employer's card might be snazzy, but I'm a big fan of my card fitting my style and highlighting specific info. Classic and classy.

7. Hunter, Meet Prey: I'm also a solo networker. Half the battle is knowing your style. While other folks and organizations are on my mind, I also enjoy introducing other people. Beyond enjoyment, some people will appreciate having a lil' help along the way. Remember our interlocutors that struggle with shyness and social awkwardness. Facilitate meaningful interactions by using your abilities in service of yourself...and others.

If I meet Person A and am near someone who's alone / visibly uncomfortable, I warmly ask: "Have you met A?", then launch into info they shared. Person A is impressed that I remembered (while further cementing the info in my head) and Person B has an easy 'in". Great experience all around. :)

8. Get Me Bodied: Beyonce was on to something. I'm a petite woman who's 5'1. If you have a more commanding stature, be mindful of how your body is occupying space when networking. While we should all respect personal space (and acknowledge that this differs along culture and personality), tall folks, men, and folks who happen to be both should have this in the front of their minds. Part of our cultural understanding of the world influences how we're taught to physically interact with and handle people.

I repeat: this is all culturally informed and just because you're comfortable does not mean that your interlocutors are.

9. People, People Who Need People: Be mindful of your mindset. I love seeing how people's interests and skills fit (sometimes like glorious pieces of this patchwork quilt working world of ours), but they are always people...never solely opportunities. Being self-serving is picked up on quickly and people who are adept at picking up these cues will steer clear of you (taking their ideas and connections with them).

I'm an INFJ that loves to strategize, take in as much as she can, and find interesting ways to convey meaningful ideas. Check out 16 Personalities' informal Myers Briggs quiz and Good.co's apps for Android and iPhone to ascertain more info about yourself. 

...and meet my buddy Levi Baer, Chicago-based community building extraordinaire. He's helping us get in touch with our skills and laying the foundation for dynamic communities. 

10. The Big Picture: If I had to sum up my networking "rules", it'd be this: Know your narrative, know your style. Don't be aimless and inauthentic, but be open - which will sometimes mean turning on the charm. Be prepared without being predatory. Most important of all, get yourself a beer and make new friends. I'm a Guinness woman through and through, but I stick to Stella while networking.

Thanks for reading and Happy Networking!