The new year is the perfect time to get networking, but if you’re shy, it can be pretty daunting.TTG provides tips for introverts.
If you’re shy, the thought of networking probably makes you nervous, but it is an essential part of working in the travel industry.
“Being able to network is really important for both your business and your role as a travel agent,” says Stephanie McMillan, a personal travel consultant at Not Just Travel.
“People want that personal connection if they are doing business with you, and that happens when you get to know someone face-to-face.”
The vast majority of new business leads come through networking, says Olein Webster, director at Diamond Travel based in Farnborough. “Everyone I’ve met at a networking event has also passed on my details,” she adds.
TTG spoke to three travel agents who consider themselves shy, as well as a leadership coach, for their perspectives on networking and building successful connections.
Different people prefer different networking formats, and for introverts, events with an agenda seem to work best. “I tend to go to coffee mornings where the networking is semi-structured,” says Webster.
“Everyone will give an introduction to their company and then there is time to chat afterwards. In several groups I go to, there is someone to greet you. They also introduce you and explain the format. This is all helpful if you’re shy.”
David Coulter, a personal travel consultant at Hays Travel Sunderland, prefers speed-dating-style events because introductions seem less forced.
“These [events] are really useful for me because they have a set format. They don’t just lump loads of people into a room and expect them to chat. I find it easier to approach the suppliers in the set order rather than having to spontaneously approach people and start a conversation,” he says.
Feeling uncomfortable at networking events is normal, even for extroverts, according to Rachel Rowland, a certified leadership coach who has coached numerous introverts. The key is to prepare beforehand, focusing on what you want to achieve. If you know who is attending in advance pre-arranging one-to-one meetings can give your networking more focus.
“Before going to an event I think through who I’m there to meet. It can help to imagine a real example of that person. It’s also important to decide on one piece of information you want everyone you meet to know about you, and the one key outcome you want from your time. Challenge yourself to say those two things in each conversation you have at the event,” Rowland advises.
Prepare an elevator pitch of around a minute to help with outlining your message and getting it across. “Write what you want to say down beforehand. Even if you have to read off a sheet, people don’t mind, just make sure you make some eye contact,” says McMillan.
Having props or wearing an item of clothing that makes you feel confident can show your personality and ease nerves, adds Webster. “I often take a beach ball which gives me something to hold when doing my presentation and is quite handy to avoid my hands looking awkward. I also put on a loud Hawaiian shirt which is a real conversation starter!”
Rachel Rowland, leadership coach, gives advice for successful networking
Be inquisitive: Look for what’s interesting to you in the work others are doing. I use my natural curiosity to make others feel interesting and to keep me engaged.
Straight talk: If I meet someone who’s a great fit for my objective, I say so and directly ask for their help. People like to be included and recognised for what they’re doing.
Make contact: Follow up. Whenever I meet someone I’m interested in, I ask for their card and reconnect after the event.
Yes, you can: When I see someone presenting brilliantly, I might hear a voice in my head wondering why it’s not me doing that. But being competitive is not helpful to being friendly. Instead, I choose to think, “if she/he can do it, so can I”.
Take time out: Try not to pressure every second to be a networking moment. Scheduling a personal break for 10 minutes can really help introverts regain energy. Go outside for a mindful breathing moment or move into a different space to pause for reflection.
Do the right thing: If networking feels like hard work, then maybe the group is not right for you. But don’t give up too easily – it’s also important to release ourselves from the pressure of being liked by everyone.
Once you’re at the event, bear in mind that everyone is there for the same reason. “It helps to remember we are all in the same industry,” says Coulter. “Be professional and remember it’s for work. If you’re stuck, find something that happened that day and discuss that.”
Look for the friendly faces in the room and people who look approachable, says Webster.
“I usually approach a group that looks open and join in. If they ask about me then I can engage, but if they ignore me then I move on.”
Use what you’re interested in to start conversations and connect with like-minded individuals, adds Rowland. “If you can be curious about them, your natural ability to connect will shine through. If you’re not interested, find a way to move on. They’ll feel the same way too.”
Having a colleague or someone who works in the industry to back you up can make approaching strangers less nerve-wracking.
“If possible, go with someone in the business if you know you won’t feel as nervous walking up to people alone,” advises McMillan.
Making those personal connections can help you reap rewards years later and it can never hurt to bear in mind what you can do for others, says Rowland. “Whatever you have – ideas, contacts, opportunities – these are all valuable to other people. I always follow up with people I enjoyed meeting. Even if you’re not sure why the connection is beneficial, being generous in spirit can draw out possibilities, sometimes years later.”