networking for introverts?

The other day, Tim Mushey of Sell, Lead, Succeed fame raised a question about networking. It was a great question because it made me stop and think and I realized that even though my connections with others are really important to me, I spend almost zero time thinking about “networking” or “my network.”

I should be the world’s worst networker: I’m terrible at small talk, I can’t “work a room” to save my life, and if I’m at a party I’ll spend most of my time in the kitchen talking to one other person about books or bicycles. Life of the party I’m not.

Yet, somewhere along the way, something happened and and I find myself in the middle of a great network of really terrific people. Enough so that my wife insists I should write a book about networking for introverts. I don’t think I have that much to say about it, but I do have a few tips I could share – just observations from my own life. Your mileage may vary.

1. Forget all about “networking”. I’m not a big fan of the word because it makes it sound like a separate activity. Just live your life. You already have a network of people and relationships, now just start thinking how you can broaden and deepen it.

2. Focus on meeting interesting people. This is my biggest piece of advice. Don’t worry about meeting everyone, just seek and find people in your field who are up to interesting things and build the relationship from there. The really, really cool thing is that interesting people by their very nature know lots of other interesting people.

How do you meet them? Ask around. Seriously, just ask, “Who else is doing cool things that you’d suggest I meet?” You’ll get some great answers. The second is social media – it’s an amazing shortcut to fascinating people around the planet. Follow someone you admire in your field on Twitter (or whatever social media you prefer) and start looking at what blogs they read, who they’re connected to, etc. and begin following and connecting with those folks.

3. Think long term. It’s not a race. Let connections and relationships build naturally over time.

4. Social media is a great starting point, but it’s just a starting point. Build relationships in real life. This past year I made a point of reaching out and asking people I only knew through the internet to chat via Skype of phone. I got sidetracked and really need to focus on this again because I’ve been able to meet and learn from some truly phenomenal people.

5. Networking numbers are stupid. I’m baffled by the ads that claim to provide 10,000 Twitter followers for $29.95 (or whatever) because, who cares? Just because someone is following you or you are following them doesn’t mean there is any connection. Oh, you handed out 100 business cards at the last conference. So what? Numbers are irrelevant. It’s better to have a true connection with 20 people than to be largely ignored by thousands.

6. People and relationships matter. You don’t have to care about everyone on the planet (though it’s nice if you do), but it shows pretty quick if you’re not investing time and energy in the people in your life.

7. Realize people are willing to connect with and help you. Several years ago my job was eliminated. With a family to feed and an immediate need for work, I started calling up key members of my professional association and asking if I could meet with them to get their advice on job hunting in the city I was living in – who’s hiring, which companies have a great/terrible reputation, who else should I speak with, etc. No one turned me down. No one hesitated. People I’d never met before went out of their way to meet, talk, and help. On a smaller scale, people I’ve met only through social me have been surprisingly quick to respond to questions.

8. Focus on what you can do to help others. If it’s all about you or your approach is very transactional, you will have a weak, sucky network. If there is actual dialog and it’s clear that you authentically want to help others, you’ll have a strong, robust network.

To sum up, here’s everything I know about networking in two short sentences: Forget “networking”. Find interesting people and build great relationships.