Networking events may not be an introvert’s ideal social situation, but they are a vital component of professional success. Here are some tips to help you make the most of networking opportunities.
In your day-to-day role in veterinary practice, engaging with clients is likely second nature. Outside the exam room, however, you may not feel as in charge or outgoing, especially in a room full of your peers. You might even identify yourself as an introvert. But “introvert” isn’t a title to shy away from. Introverts have a host of admirable qualities, including being engaging listeners and calm leaders.
Being introverted simply means that you may need to challenge yourself a bit more in social situations where your natural instinct is to let others take the lead. Case in point: networking events. These opportunities can be extremely advantageous to your career, but they also require engaging with strangers and, in some cases, making the first move.
Rather than creating an excuse to skip an industry or community event, learn to use your strengths and challenge yourself to become a stronger networker.
Plenty of meaningful and constructive connections can be forged without an initial face-to-face meeting. The first step would be to create and maintain active social media accounts, particularly on Twitter and LinkedIn where business-related interactions are more prevalent. Bolster your personal brand by sharing thoughts and content while also engaging with other veterinary professionals. You’ll start to notice that as you follow new accounts, reply to updates and share content, the engagement will be reciprocated.
Eventually, you’ll find yourself interacting with some people more than others, and professional opportunities may arise from these exchanges. Furthermore, it’s likely that the next time you are at a conference or industry event you’ll have the opportunity to meet with some of your social followers in-person.
Just as you would for a formal presentation, spend time preparing for in-person interactions. Generate a mental list of topics you can use to initiate conversation or fill in any uncomfortable lulls. Your go-to cache should be a mix of professional subjects (new research, a recent test that has become available) and general topics (vacation plans, a favorite TV show). If you’re attending an event where the guest list is available beforehand, pinpoint a few people you’d like to speak with most and do a little research on their work.
Having topics to fall back on makes the ebb and flow of conversation easier, and adding personal tidbits shows that you’re engaged.
Don’t Go It Alone
If the thought of standing alone in a crowded room makes you want to run for the door, avoid such a situation altogether. No, that doesn’t mean skip the event. Instead, bring a colleague or friend. As a pair, you can bring others into the conversation and use your colleague as a conversational crutch if needed.
If your networking wingperson happens to be an extrovert, however, make it a point not to get lost in his or her social shadow. Challenge yourself to step away from your colleague and spark up a conversation with at least two new people entirely on your own.
One way to stand out from the crowd is to take the time to follow up with new acquaintances the day after your initial meeting. This can be done via email or by connecting on LinkedIn. Rather than sending a generic message, take a few moments to personalize your note with details from your discussion or to compliment an aspect of the recipient’s work.
Remember that in any social setting you are not the only introvert. While you shouldn’t put on a façade and pretend to be someone you’re not, you also shouldn’t run from networking events — you could be missing beneficial opportunities.