As the founder of a large networking organization, I get a lot of questions from people who are shy or introverted, asking how they can make going to a networking event more comfortable. Here are a few quick tips to consider before heading to your next event.
1. Come for “introvert hour.” The beginning of an event is the perfect time to arrive if you’re shy or introverted. Because there are fewer people there at this time, it is easier to engage in a conversation without being interrupted, and it’s when everyone is looking for someone to speak with as the room fills up. Making one great connection early in the night can be the springboard to build your confidence, as well as help leverage meeting other new people throughout the course of the event.
2. Hang near the bar. Hanging out near the corner of the bar or food table are two great places to meet people. Most people go straight to the bar when they arrive at an event. And as they turn to exit the bar and move into the room, they’ll typically be pleased to have a friendly face extending an invitation to chat.
3. Bring a wing person. While it’s not ideal to hang with someone you know throughout an event, it can be a nice way to get situated. If you come with someone, consider utilizing one another to be on the lookout for great contacts and make those introductions. It’s also great to allow someone else to build your credibility, so if you’re standing together and your wing person shares some highlights about you to the person you meet, it puts you in a great light without having to brag about yourself.
4. Take a timeout. A networking event can be overwhelming for anyone, even if you don’t consider yourself shy or introverted. Allow yourself to go to the restroom to take a minute to yourself, or go check out the food table for a quick breather.
5. Don’t be afraid of strangers. If you feel intimidated or overwhelmed at the premise of how to maneuver a room full of strangers, remember that everyone was a stranger at some point. Take a deep breath and recognize that everyone is there because they want to meet new people — it takes the fear factor out of approaching someone you don’t know. In most cases, said stranger will be relieved that you introduced yourself. Walk up to someone, make eye contact and extend your hand to introduce yourself.
6. Have a few icebreaker topics in mind. It can be overwhelming to know what to say to someone when you meet them, so consider having a few icebreaker questions or topics in mind as a go-to. These might include things like how they heard about the event or how long they’ve been involved with the organization; questions about their family or what they enjoy doing around town; or what they do and what’s exciting on the horizon for them. It’s always best to ask genuine questions about your conversation partner and try to create a natural dialogue that doesn’t just focus on their work. This helps to leave a lasting impression and allows you to get to know more about this person and what makes them tick.
7. Set a goal to meet 3-5 people. Rather than attempting to meet as many people as possible, consider making a goal of meeting 3-5 people during an event. This allows you to fully engage in each conversation without feeling anxious that you need to meet someone new, and it gives you an opportunity to leave, should you so choose, once you’ve hit your goal. Focusing more on how you’re progressing towards your goal may also take your mind off of any anxiety you have about being there.
Remember that networking is really just another word for relationship building. Consider the people you meet as potential new friends and just explore getting to know them. Also, consider the places where you’re networking. If you feel that people aren’t as inclusive or you don’t click with them, that’s ok. Find another organization that is a more natural fit for you. Connecting and relationship building (aka networking) should be enjoyable, so find ways to make it work for your personality.
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