‘It’s who you know, not what you know’. People I trust drilled this truth into me, along with an injunction to extend my network.
So I go to meet ups, conferences, dinners and other events to meet people who might help me on my journey: Investors, other entrepreneurs, media, mentors and so on. It’s a tough road and you need as much help from the best people you can find.
Anyone who looked at Posse from the outside would conclude I have an incredible network, so I must be an expert schmoozer. Our shareholder register includes the founder of Google Maps, high profile Silicon Valley venture capitalists, senior executives from eBay, MTV, Macquarie Bank, Wotif, NineMSN and many others.
But I’m nothing of the sort, quite the opposite in fact. As an introvert, I’ve always struggled with networking.
Here, I’ll share some challenges I’ve experienced and how I’ve learned to build a powerful network despite my natural reticence.
This past week I’ve been at the annual MaiTai conference in Maui, hanging out with 130 of the world’s top tech entrepreneurs, investors and pro kite surfers. We started each morning at 8am with inspiring and educational panels featuring some of the most interesting people I’ve come across.
At midday, we all headed to the beach to kite surf. I’m still a beginner so I took lessons from 2 – 5pm, but other than that, we chilled out on the beach drinking beer and forming friendships with people who’d influence and help us in business and life.
At night, there was a formal dinner or event followed by after parties that ran until pretty close to the start of next morning sessions.
Some people can walk into any event and charm the room. They’re confident, funny and can form close relationships with anyone seemingly without effort. I always wished I was like that but in truth, I’m not.
When I look around a room at a party where I don’t know many people, I find it daunting to approach just anyone and strike up a conversation. It doesn’t come naturally.
I’m an introvert, and all these networking events are designed for and work better with extroverts. This past week has been amazing fun – I’ve met some awesome people with whom I’m sure I’ll stay in contact for years to come. But it wasn’t all easy.
Am I the only one who feels this way? My guess is, lots of us go to these events and struggle.
We stick at it because we know it matters, and as we progress, we learn to hide our discomfort and improve our skills. I’m a perfectionist and hate not to be good at something, but I have to accept that this is just me.
I’ve developed techniques to help me to form important relationships and improve – even enjoy – the process of networking:
1. Focus on what you are good at
Although I find large informal groups like parties a challenge, I know that I perform very well in formal presentation settings or one-on-one conversations. Instead of beating myself up about not being able to charm groups at the dinner table, I focus my efforts in learning how to build on my more natural skills of engaging people one-on-one, and public speaking.
An ability to kill it at a one-on-one presentation is all you need to build a great network, because if you leave that person inspired then they’ll want to introduce you to their friends. That’s how I’ve built my entire network.
2. At events have short conversations with lots of people then follow up later
I find it difficult to form deep connections at informal events, instead I try to have short conversations with as many people as possible, making sure I have everyone’s details so I can follow up later.
Then I’ll reach out after the event, setting up a lunch or coffee. That’s an environment where I know I’ll be able to win them over.
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