(Even if You're a Natural Introvert)
By Garrett Clayton | April 20, 2020
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It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. We’re all familiar with the well-worn expression touting the benefits of networking. And while it may be a cliché, the reason the phrase has become so well-known is no doubt because of the truth it conveys. And in the mortgage industry especially, it is most certainly as much about the relationships you build as it is about the knowledge you possess.
So whether you are a seasoned schmoozer who knows how to work the room, or a life-long introvert who’d rather go full ostrich than mingle with strangers, networking is a necessary part of our profession. For those of you whose stomach clenches at the mere mention of “networking events,” fear not. We have the tips to help you build a strategy to approach networking with confidence, and dare we say even enthusiasm. And if you were born to work a room, we’ve got the info to help you take your game to the next level.
1. Shift Your Mind-Set. One reason many of us dread socializing with strangers is a fear of the unknown. What if I’m not interesting enough? What if it’s awkward? What if I get trapped in an unbearably dull conversation? All of those unknowns tap into our insecurities and add up to a lot of anxiety.
But have you ever considered that the other people at these networking events are likely experiencing the same fears? Instead of focusing on how uncomfortable you could feel at the event, make it your mission to put others at ease. By shifting your mindset onto helping others rather than worrying about yourself, you may find you have much more confidence to engage in conversations with strangers.
Putting others at ease could be as simple as talking to someone standing alone, asking thoughtful questions, or giving compliments—all ideas that are expounded upon in this list!
2. Prioritize Giving Over Getting. When most of us think of the term “networking” we think of approaching others to further our own business interests. No wonder so many of us dislike networking! Asking others what they can do for us is awkward and uncomfortable. Fortunately, it’s also an outdated networking technique.
In keeping with shifting your mindset onto making others comfortable, you should also approach every networking event with a mindset of “What value can I provide to others here?” rather than “What value can others provide me?” Not only does helping others feel easy and natural, it also makes you valuable, and therefore memorable, in the mind of the person you are helping. By offering advice, suggesting resources on a subject of interest, or making an introduction to someone they might want to meet, you are cultivating a meaningful connection, which is really what networking is all about.
3. Set Goals for Yourself In Advance. Being uncertain of how to behave or what to say can add to networking nerves. Psych yourself up for your next event by setting goals for how you will act or what you want to achieve beforehand. Those goals can vary based on your networking skill or comfort level.
For example, someone who considers themselves a natural introvert may set a goal of talking to the first person they see or initiating conversation with three strangers throughout the event. For someone who generally feels comfortable conversing with strangers, a goal might to be to make one business connection they can nurture over time or to exchange contact information with three new business connections.
Setting goals is as much about the outcomes you want to achieve as it is about giving purpose to your attendance at the event and guiding how you will behave while you are there.
4. Plan Your Conversation-Starters Ahead of Time. While you definitely don’t want to come off as scripted, preparing topics, questions, and stories in advance of the event can both boost confidence and make your interactions with others more successful. Have a few basic icebreaker questions in mind to get conversations going, peruse a news feed to see what pop culture events could be topics of discussion, and even plan a funny story or two to share about yourself. All of these approaches allow you to easily initiate conversation while also providing others insight into who you truly are, which in turn encourages them to share their true selves as well.
5. Ask Open-Ended Questions. You can minimize awkward silences by asking the right types of questions. Think of this as asking for stories not answers. Instead of asking “What do you do?” consider asking “What are you working on these days?” You can then ask, “What does that process look like for you?” or “What do you love most about what you do?” People actually feel good when given the opportunity to talk about themselves, so any questions that encourage others to self-disclose are bound to help your conversations run smoothly.
By asking questions that require stories over answers, you are inviting others to open up about themselves and opening the door to real, meaningful conversations rather than just small talk.
6. Be Genuinely Interested In Others. Likewise, you can also choose one or two topics that you are interested in learning more about and use those to guide your questions and conversations. Topics may be discovering what other people think about housing market projections or it may be learning other people’s hobbies and how they got into them.
People can tell whether you are genuinely interested or just playing along, so by guiding the conversation onto the topics you are interested in you make the interaction feel genuine, which improves the experience for both you and your partner. Again, it’s all about making meaningful conversations. What those conversations are about is actually much less important.
7. Keep an Open Mind. Sometimes we can feel intimidated by interacting with people who are different from us, but those can often become the most interesting and enlightening conversations. When networking, it is important to enter every interaction with an open mind. This goes back to making others comfortable. Instead of pushing your point of view or ideas onto others, ask them to share what they are thinking and be open to their thoughts. In general, people feel good when they are allowed to share their stories, thoughts, and ideas and conversations are viewed as more successful when the tone is kept positive. So commit to listening more than speaking and save your debates for close family and friends.
8. Tell an Engaging Story. While asking thoughtful questions and being a good listener can endear you to your conversation partner, at some point you will need to share about yourself. Instead of launching into a checklist of who you are and what you do, share a meaningful or funny story about yourself. People will be more engaged and more likely to remember you if you share a story over facts. And don’t be afraid to be yourself! People want to see the real you so they can show you the real them!
9. Have an Exit Strategy in Your Back Pocket. Whether a conversation is going swimmingly or you can’t wait to escape, knowing how to tactfully excuse yourself from a conversation will strengthen your confidence to engage with strangers and also allow you to make more connections during the event, should that be your goal.
Above all, be sincere in your exit and try not to make it feel abrupt or uncomfortable. A few strategies are to offer to introduce them to someone else, ask for their card, or make plans for a follow-up discussion if it’s a relationship you want to grow over time. This article offers 10 phrases for gracefully exiting a conversation that you can make your own.
The takeaway here is to approach networking as an opportunity to help others and form meaningful relationships, whether business or friendships. By focusing your efforts on others and taking the pressure off of yourself to get something out of your interactions, you can actually enjoy getting to know some new people!
With these tips in tow, we think you may be surprised how much you enjoy your next networking event!
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