A common assumption that isn't necessarily true is that an extroverted "people person" is the best type of networker. While an extroverted person might be better at meeting new people, someone who's more introverted can be better at the second part of business networking -- communicating his or her ideas and forming meaningful relationships.
In my experience, introverted people tend to be better listeners and ask more questions, which are essential factors for getting to know a person and his or her business. But far too often, introverts eliminate themselves from the benefits that come from networking and relationship-building because they aren't comfortable initializing conversations.
Consider me, for example. One evening during a dinner conversation with my wife I mentioned something about my being an extrovert. She looked at me and said, "Um, honey, I hate to break it to you but, you're an introvert."
An introvert? A networker like me? I laughed, but she insisted I was, and she outlined all the ways I have introverted tendencies. So, I went online and took a personality test. It determined I am a "situational extrovert," that I am a loner who is reserved around strangers but outgoing in the right context.
It struck me then that I started the BNI networking organization almost three decades ago because I was naturally uncomfortable meeting new people. I found that the smaller, more intimate approaches to building a network enabled me to meet people in an organized, structured networking environment that did not require that I actually "talk to strangers."
While there are numerous techniques that can help make networking easier for introverts, here are three that can get you meeting new people now and building valuable relationships for the long haul:
1. Be an 'ambassador.'
If you feel uncomfortable approaching strangers at, say, a chamber business mixer, you can volunteer to be an ambassador for that group. In this role, you are in effect a host for the chamber, which makes it easier and more natural for you to greet people and say, "Welcome to our event. My name is [your name]. I'm an ambassador for the chamber and . . ." Before you know it, the ice is broken and you're engaged in conversation.
2. Get involved.
Opportunities to learn the art of networking abound, and often in places you may not have considered. Do you do volunteer work for a cause you feel passionate about? You can help organize committees, recruit other volunteers (on the phone or in person) or help solicit donations for your group's worthy cause. You start off talking about the project and the next thing you know you're chatting about any number of topics.
These can be effective opportunities for meeting new people -- many of whom could be future clients.
3. Be an influencer.
Another way to break the ice is by speaking formally to a group about a specific topic. People have become great networkers by joining a parent-teacher association, where there are opportunities to speak on behalf of the children, or by speaking at a political event for a local or national aspiring candidate. Once you have presented the platform of a political candidate to a group of voters that you can sway with the power of your words, you can present yourself, one-on-one, in an equally engaging manner.
Bottom line: Networking is a skill that can be learned no matter your level of gregariousness. If you remain ill-at-ease in environments where you have to mix and mingle or meet new people one-on-one, you can take steps to interact with people in other ways to help break the ice. You'll find that when you learn ways to handle these situations, you'll become more relaxed and confident in a networking setting.