We talk a lot about the value of networking. After all, opportunities to grow can come from anywhere, and networking is the key to seeking the most valuable opportunities out there. For some, this is a no-brainer. You put yourself out there. You attend professional associations and events. You meet new folks. You cultivate relationships and build a network that can support you as you grow.
For others, the idea of walking into a crowded room so you can make small talk with an array of familiar and not-so-familiar faces is a little bit intimidating, if not outright terrifying. Networking may be an integral part of professional development, but it’s certainly not easy for everyone. These eight tips should help the shy, the quiet, and the introverted (and everyone else) network in a way that’s both productive and comfortable.
The digital age is a gift to networkers of all sorts. For the introvert, it levels the playing field. Whether you’re engaging with followers on Twitter or sharing insightful feedback with others on LinkedIn, networking on social media can be a powerful tool. If you’ve not already established a presence online now is the time to build and leverage relationships from your keyboard. Not sure where to get started? Send me a connection request on LinkedIn. I’d be happy to connect with you!
Don’t Go It Alone
Regardless of how awesome you are online, attending in-person events is still a good idea. If you’re uncomfortable, enlist a professional peer to go with you. Meeting and greeting new connections may feel less intimidating if you’re moving through the crowd with a partner. Of course, you don’t have to attend as part of a team. Use your online connections to identify a few familiar faces that might be attending the same event and then seek out those friendly faces when you arrive. The key, of course, is not to limit yourself to this handful of ‘safe’ folks. Ask your existing connections to introduce you to their friends and coworkers in attendance. Remember, you want to build your network.
Be the Early Bird
Is your idea of smart networking showing up late and leaving early to limit the amount of time you need to engage with others? We need to talk strategy. Joining the event after it has gotten off the ground and into full swing means there are already conversational groups forming in pockets around the room. If maneuvering yourself into a conversation in progress makes you uncomfortable, your “arrive late” strategy is flawed. Arriving early, on the other hand, gives you the opportunity to connect with a smaller number of people before the din of conversation rachets up and the groups start sectioning off.
You don’t need to be the conversation starter, but you do need to be approachable. Reach outside your comfort zone: Smile and make eye contact with others, particularly others you want to meet. It’s an invitation to come to you and make an introduction.
Do Your Homework
Even the most gifted athletes and performers practice to hone their craft. Networking isn’t any different. Don’t underestimate the benefits of preparation. Before you go to an event, prepare your elevator pitch. Make a mental list of questions you can draw from when you do engage in conversation. Practice your small talk. If there’s an attendee list available prior to the event, get to know who will be there and make a list of individuals you’d like to connect with while you’re there.
Dress the Part
It’s a lot easier to put yourself out there when you’re feeling comfortable in your own skin. Is there a particular style or outfit that makes you feel more confident? Wear it. Pair it with the aforementioned eye contact and smile. Trust me on this one. When you feel good about yourself, it shows.
Remember, networking events are about quality, not quantity. Coming home with the biggest collection of business cards or the most new LinkedIn connections isn’t necessarily a measure of success. One good connection is a million times better than a pocketful of mediocre ones. Setting the right expectations can take some of the pressure off. You don’t need to go in and meet everyone in the room. You’re there to meet a few of the people who are right for your professional tribe.
Even extroverts can find networking events draining. Give yourself a break – literally. After a big event, schedule down time or at least fit in time for a project that requires some quiet independent space.