Being forced to talk to others in a room full of strangers makes some people want to eat themselves into nihility from the ground up. Yep, it’s not easy being an introvert at a networking event. If you’re a naturally shy person who struggles to perform socially under pressure, follow these tips to tame the self-doubt, calm the mind, and present as the composed professional you know you are:
Drop the guilt
Let’s first address the word ‘networking’, which can be perceived as a self-serving exercise designed to take advantage of people’s professional circumstances to better your own.
For some, this may be the case, which can cause those who aren’t as naturally assertive, deliberate or ambitious with their relationship building to feel uncomfortable that they too could be viewed as using networking to purely serve their own personal interests.
We’re here to tell you that networking is NOT a dirty word and you can choose your own networking goals. If you feel more comfortable walking into a room with the intention of sharing your experience, skills and time (rather than exploiting someone else’s), this might change the way you feel and perform in a networking environment.
If you offer your time, money and advice strategically, this pay-it-forward attitude will ensure you too receive value from the relationships formed at the event.
Prepare & practice
Preparing for a networking event will improve your chances of delivering an impressive spiel when asked the paralysing question, “So______, what do you do?”
Memorising a short 20-30 second elevator pitch word-for-word can be counterproductive if you lose your place half way, so start with a couple of dot point keywords or phrases about who you are, what you do, who you help, and your USP (unique selling proposition).
CIO says, planning out an agenda can help guide the conversation for specific outcomes when you’re put on the spot, as well as arm you with some open-ended questions to ask others who might be equally as anxious about the concept of networking.
Ask a friend to spend 20 minutes with you before the event roleplaying with questions you are likely to be asked about your skills and your business goals.
Call in some backup
Like turning up to your first Crossfit class with a friend, networking with a colleague can be far less intimidating than networking by yourself – as long as you make an effort to mingle.
Turn it into a challenge and take turns for each person to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Having that extra support and familiarity to face the event can be the difference between having the confidence to initiate a chat that results in a thriving partnership, and standing in the corner awkwardly clutching your glass like there’s some kind of global wine shortage.
Throw your own parties
Have a think about the types of networking events you’ve attended in the past. Who was there and what did you have in common with them? If the answer is ‘Nobody interesting and nothing much’, you’re probably mixing in the wrong circles.
Consider starting your own networking event with a carefully selected group of individuals you personally invite. It might sound ludicrous for someone who hates networking to host their very own event, but there’s some method to the madness…
Some introverts prefer minimally stimulating environments, which means that after work drinks at a crowded bar with blasting music surrounded by 87 people can easily cause feelings of anxiousness and overwhelm.
By hosting your own in-home or low-key venue event with 5-10 other industry professionals whom you’ll get a chance to personally introduce yourself to when inviting them before the event can reduce much of the unpredictability of networking.
Get social – without stalking
While there’s nothing like face-to-face interaction for building trusting, meaningful relationships, social media is a great tool for introverts to establish and foster connections with other professionals in a less confronting environment.
High Five Media says that by following industry professionals on the platforms where they are most active and showing genuine interest in the content they post, you’re making your name and your brand known.
Follow others’ activity and create professional online interactions that make taking the first step to meeting in real life (or even pitching for a cross promotion) slightly less daunting.
Once you’re confidently on your way to tackling networking events, download CamCard on your mobile phone: a centralised database management system that comes with a handy app for scanning business cards.
Once scanned, the business card data will be added to the app, which integrates the information with other CRM applications like Salesforce, SugarCRM, Google Contacts, Outlook Contacts and Excel, making it easy to follow up new connections and continue building on the conversations and relationships from the networking event.
Remember that networking is like going for a run; you might not want to drag yourself off the couch and squeeze into fitness gear to sweat it out for an hour, but when you’re back home again on the couch, you’re always glad you went! They key? Practice makes perfect.
What do you do to conquer your fear of networking? Let us know in the comments!