It’s no secret that networking is an essential part of a successful career, but it can be terrifying for the socially awkward and stressful for introverts who would just rather be alone.
They say, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” but how are you supposed to network when social ineptness has you parked in front of Netflix instead of happy hour?
I am an introvert who used to dread networking because of social anxiety, and now it’s become one of my favorite activities. Networking became a crucial part of my career when I became a freelancer. I read a few books and I practiced, practiced, practiced. The more I got out there and networked, the more I liked it. If found myself acting more outgoing and small talk became much easier. During this whole process, I founded a networking group and made a lot of rewarding connections with people from all sorts of careers and walks of life.
If you would rather be stabbed in the eye than make small talk with someone you just met, here are some tips:
Your Elevator Speech. Prepare to introduce yourself to people. Write an elevator speech about yourself. For ex: “My name is Ann and I’m a graphic designer.” Explain your job in layman’s terms. Make it simple.
Your Purpose. Think about your purpose for networking. Do you want to build relationships? Are you looking for a new job? Are you trying to start a business or make a new hire? Prepare to briefly discuss this and be careful to not talk too much!
Rehearse Rehearse Rehearse. Rehearse your elevator speech, questions to ask, topics to discuss with friends, family or your mirror. The more you say it. The easier it will become.
Write it down! Make notes of your elevator speech, purpose and possible topics to discuss. Bring your notes with you just in case.
2. Focus on making others comfortable
You might be super anxious but remember there is probably someone at your networking event that is more shy, awkward and uncomfortable than you. Try to make them feel comfortable.
3. Ask questions
People like talking about themselves. Write a few questions down beforehand if you need to. If you find something in common, ask more questions. It doesn’t even have to be career related. I like to ask people the following:
- What do you do vs. what you want to do?
- Where are you from?
- What are your goals for connecting?
- How did you get into that field/job?
4. Be Attentive
Photo: Phil Sexton
Remember to make eye contact and try to remember everyone’s names. Here are Forbe’s Five Best Tricks to Remember Names.
5. Practice improv
Improv training has many career benefits and can help you think on your feet. Read How to Use Improv to Network Like a Pro for tips on how to break the ice.
6. Fake it
If all else fails, just plaster a smile on your face and pretend you are Kelly Ripa.
7. Connect online
Afterwards, find them on LinkedIn and connect with them with a personalized message.
Remember networking is all about connecting to build long-term relationships. Try not to think about networking as “what can this person do for me?” Get out there and practice because the more you do it, the easier it will become.