I’ll confess up-front; I’m an introvert. I spend a lot of time on my own – and I find it tiring to be around lots of other people.
Being an introvert actually works out pretty well for me. I’m a writer, so a big part of my day involves sitting at my computer, working alone. When I do work with other people as a writing coach, it’s usually one-on-one (I can cope with one other person!)
Of course, I can’t spend the whole of my life alone or with just close friends and family.
#1: Get to Know People Beforehand
One of the many things I love about the internet is that it makes it incredibly easy for me, an introvert, to strike up a connection with total strangers. When I’ve been to networking events, I’ve found it incredibly helpful to have some established friends there already.
How do you find people who’ll be at the event? Try:
- Forums or similar on the event’s website
- Twitter – search for the name of the event
- Blog posts – is anyone you know going?
- Facebook – the event itself may have a page
- LinkedIn – will any of your contacts (or their contacts) be attending?
If you’re going to a very large event, like a multi-day conference, you may want to make specific plans to meet up. You could even arrive a bit early so you can get a meal with a friend or a small group of friends before the event itself starts.
#2: Go Prepared
If you’re attending a new event, you might have all sorts of worries about how to get there, what it will be like, who’ll be there, and so on.
I’m always less anxious when I feel well-prepared, and I expect the same will apply to you. That means:
- Find out the dress code in advance. There might not be one – ask friends/colleagues who’ve attended before. Err on the side of over-dressing ... though if you’re in a suit and everyone else is wearing jeans, you may feel a bit awkward.
- Take a pen and small notebook. As a writer, I carry these with me anyway – but they’re useful to have on hand in all sorts of situations.
- Take business cards. You might have stock ones from work, but if you create your own cards, try to make them interesting. I use Moo.com to create cards with several different designs – that way, my new contacts can pick whichever one they like best. It’s a great talking point and much more interesting than thrusting a boring black-and-white card at someone.
- Carry breath mints, a comb, makeup, deodorant etc. Be prepared to make last-minute touch-ups to your appearance before you go into the event. You’ll know better than me what you’re likely to need!
- Take a map (or know the exact address). Allow a bit of extra time to get there, too, if you’re going somewhere new for the first time.
Have you ever been standing around awkwardly, trying to get up the courage to go and speak to someone? The longer you wait, the harder it is! When I was a student, I made a point of speaking in the first ten minutes of any class – that way, I found I was much more confident about contributing as the class went on.
The same applies to networking. As soon as you arrive, find someone to chat to. It’s often easy to strike up a conversation in the registration queue, for instance. Questions like “Have you been to this before?” can be a great way to get someone else chatting.
#4: Look for Someone Else Who Seems Shy
It can be very hard to break into a big group of people – especially when they all seem confident. Look for anyone on their own – perhaps standing in a corner, or loitering uncomfortably on the outskirts of a group. They probably feel just as shy as you do, and they’ll almost certainly be grateful if you go and engage them in conversation.
You don’t need to say anything scintillating to start chatting: a comment about some aspect of the event (the food, drinks, weather, decor) can be an easy way in, or you could simply ask “What do you do?” or “What brings you here?”
#5: Don’t Talk Too Fast
Many of us talk fast when we’re nervous. You might have to make a conscious effort to slow down – especially if you have a strong accent. (You may not think your accent is strong, but consider the people you’re networking with: I’m from the UK, and I occasionally have to repeat myself when I’m at events in the US.)
If you find yourself talking too much:
- Ask open-ended questions – encourage the other person or people to talk too
- Avoid interrupting people or finishing their sentences for them
- Get a glass of water to sip while talking (go easy if you’ve got an alcoholic drink...)
Have you ever come back from an event and cringed, thinking “I should never have said that” or “He must have thought I’m an idiot”?
Lots of introverts do this. We have a tendency to over-think and over-analyze things. I’ve seen blog posts and tweets by other introverts who were fantastic to chat to ... but who’re worried that they somehow screwed things up.
Even if you say something a bit daft or make some mistake, chances are, no-one even noticed. Don’t beat yourself up about it. The important thing is that you went to the event, and you had a go at networking – next time, it’ll be easier.
What do you find most challenging about networking – or what tips do you have on making it easier? Share your thoughts in the comments.