If you'd rather go to the dentist than be forced to attend a job-networking event, this post is for you. If you you'd rather visit the desert without a canteen of water than participate in the next industry conference in your field, this post is for you. If you'd rather hang out in a cardboard box--surely you see the emerging theme by now--this post is for you. To extroverts and outgoing people this might sound overly dramatic, but to an introvert or a shy person, the mere thought of approaching strangers or engaging them in conversation can be anxiety-inducing. Introversion and shyness appear similar, but they are two different personality traits. In short, introverts typically do well in smaller, more intimate settings because they prefer to be alone, but they are good listeners. Shyness refers more to how a person deals with others in unfamiliar situations; they have a hard time meeting new people and in most cases, it's fear-based. Here's the thing: If you find it hard to engage and connect with business contacts in large groups, in person, or even online, that's OK. Networking isn't something all personalities are innately good at or comfortable doing. Yet with some practice and a few simple hacks, you can manage these situations with more ease and less worry. Keep these hacks in your back pocket for the next networking event you're dreading but know you have to tackle. Networking is fundamental to good business and marketing, so embrace it by finding what works for you.
1. Do your homework and plan ahead.
Shy people struggle with starting conversations with strangers, but planning ahead can help reduce your anxiety. As the event approaches, do your homework. Start by finding out who will be attending and look them up via social media (i.e., LinkedIn, Google, and Twitter). Learning more about the event and some of the other attendees or speakers beforehand can help you feel that you have some knowledge on which to base conversations.
2. Set goals and stick to them.
You did your research; now go into the situation with planned goals. If the event is offline, plan to hand out 50 business cards and talk to five people. If the event is online, set a goal to follow up with so many people with a phone call or email.
3. Bring your own swag.
When networking offline, consider ordering a bright or edgy business card for networking events that is different from your normal design. A signature piece of clothing or jewelry can also help forge good conversation, as well. Seattle entrepreneur Rand Fishkin, for example, is well known for founding the digital marketing brand Moz. However, he was first known by many as "that guy at the conferences with the bright yellow shoes." It sure made him memorable!
4. Focus on them, not you (at first).
A lot of introverts don't realize they're already great conversationalists; the thought of conversing with other people may make them so nervous they won't give themselves a chance. In conversation, listen, then ask questions to take the attention off of yourself and onto the other person. Don't feel that you have to fill every conversational void with babble about yourself. People love being asked questions and given a chance to share information.
5. Use the buddy system.
It's always easier to make your way through a big crowd with at least one person you know and can turn to. If you don't have a co-worker you're especially friendly with, tag a friend along. Just don't exclusively talk to that person, or you'll miss out on making new connections.
6. Have a drink... the good kind.
Now, I'm not suggesting you get loaded at your next networking event, because that just wouldn't be good for anyone. But indulging in an alcoholic beverage at the onset of the event can simply make you feel a little less anxious. If you're at home and online networking, be sure not to overindulge! If having a drink isn't your thing, then what is? I've seen people use everything from chewing gum to herbal tea as ways of relaxing. What's your "thing"? We all have one; bring it with you (within reason of course.)
7. Make a cheat sheet.
In the same way that some people use written affirmations on Post-Its where they'll see them often, you can use a cheat sheet of networking affirmations and prompts to keep these simple hacks top of mind. Like anything, it's easy to commit to trying harder and making a change, but far more difficult to practice your new ways on a regular basis. Happy networking!