In the world of networking, it’s not just about collecting contacts — it’s about mastering the art of building meaningful connections. Opportunities like fully-funded conferences abroad make networking easier than ever. However, for introverts like myself, it can be a challenge.
Don’t get me wrong, as a youth engagement enthusiast, I enjoy meeting new people. While online platforms have fewer barriers, face-to-face interactions foster genuine connections. Being physically present allows for shared experiences that help build bonds.
During my recent trip to China for the International Youth Forum 2023, I initially felt anxious to mingle with youth leaders from around the world, not just in the Philippines or Southeast Asia. On the first day of the event, as I entered the dining area filled with people, my worries intensified. I decided to have breakfast alone, but then someone from Tanzania initiated a casual conversation with me, and that encounter became memorable.
Truly, networking is simply about striking up conversations with strangers, with the hope of turning them into acquaintances or friends. You don’t need an agenda; just initiating a conversation can work wonders.
If you’re an introvert like me and want to make new friends, especially at international events, here are my tips:
- Take the initiative: If you’re afraid, count to three and speak up. You don’t need a grand question right away. Just say hello and introduce yourself to one person, especially if you feel more comfortable in one-on-one conversations.
- Prepare a concise introduction: Craft a pitch that aligns with the event you’re attending. For example, at IYF 2023, focused on youth engagement in promoting cultural diversity and inclusion, I introduced myself as the Engagement Director of the ASEAN Youth Organization and briefly mentioned my work.
- Show genuine interest: Listen attentively to understand, not just to respond. Ask about their name, where they’re from, and what they do. Don’t hesitate to ask questions; there are no wrong ones when you’re genuinely interested in getting to know the person you’re talking to.
- Connect after the conversation: Remember to exchange contact information. You can ask about their preferred social media platforms, saying something like, “Do you mind sharing your preferred social media accounts? Is it Instagram, LinkedIn, or Facebook?” In a more professional setting, you may also exchange physical or virtual business cards.
- Follow up with a message: After your conversation, send them a message highlighting key points from your discussion. It shows that you valued the conversation, even if it was a simple one.
The power of networking lies not in the number of connections but in the quality of those connections. As introverts, we may find it daunting to navigate social situations, especially at international events. However, by taking small steps and initiating conversations, we can unlock incredible opportunities for genuine connections.
Remember, it’s not about talking to every person in the room; it’s about finding those few individuals with whom you can build meaningful relationships. These connections transcend superficial interactions and create a support system, professional collaborations, and lifelong friendships.
By showing genuine interest, actively listening, and following up, we can nurture these connections and make them thrive. Each conversation holds the potential for a transformative experience, and even the simplest encounters can lead to remarkable journeys.
So, embrace the discomfort, step out of your comfort zone, and approach networking with an open mind. Connect with people from different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives. Engage in conversations that matter, and you’ll witness the magic unfolding when you forge genuine connections.
Indeed, your network is not just about your net worth; it’s about the enrichment, growth, and fulfillment that comes from connecting with extraordinary individuals who share your passions and dreams. So, go out there, embrace the power of networking, and let your authentic connections become the foundation of your success and happiness.