Back when I was in graduate school, I was a MAJOR extrovert. I could talk to anybody about anything. Networking mixer? I’m totally there! I seem to have reduced my extreme extroverted tendencies as I grow older. Therefore, these days I call myself “a situational extrovert.” If I am going to an event where I am positive I’ll know at least 1-2 people in the room, I’m just fine. If I’m going to an event where I don’t have that assurance, then I tend to just eat, drink, and look at my phone. Horrid, right?
So I am not the person who looks forward to networking mixers and cocktail parties at conferences if I’m the New Person. It’s not that I’m scared, because I can still talk to anyone about anything; but I’m less likely to start a conversation if I’m unsure what I’m going to talk about. This is mostly because I DO NOT have a poker face – if I’m not interested, you are going to know this because all I do is nod and say, “wow, that’s really interesting.” (see this article on Networking)
When I transitioned from College Housing to Advancement, I began participating in professional organizations and conferences that were brand spanking new for me. And in the beginning, I knew NO ONE. And here’s what I did about it.
I latched on to my supervisor at any and all networking “things.”
That sounds a little needy, I know. But she knew all the relevant people that I should meet and engage. So I actually let her do the work for me. When I felt like I’d made a good connection or that I really liked that person, I would ask to exchange cards…and THEN I would actually follow up and try to build the relationship.
From the get go, I submitted presentations and volunteered at non-networking events
When a professional association selects your presentation for a conference, this is a great way to meet other. Volunteering gets you in contact with conference planning teams. This led me to being selected twice to be on the Annual Conference Planning Committee. I have made several good friends and MANY great connections through this connection.
I researched other programs/organizations and contacted folks to ask questions.
Everyone likes to be told that their program or product is excellent and then asked “how did you do it?” When I learned about a program or procedure at a conference or from a webinar, etc., I would do my research and then reach out to the school. I would seek out the correct person to ask questions of them. This can also lead to building relationships and making connections.
So, see what I did there? I sought out to build relationships rather than “only” networking. And through these experiences I believe that I have learned more about my field and my colleagues then I would just milling around at the annual Wine and Cheese Party waiting for someone to park at The Table of the Situational Extrovert.
If you’d like to get a sense of where you stand on the Networking Continuum, check out my blog post on Strengths and learn how I found my top five talents in the workplace!