By Jeff Beals
Even in today’s digital communication environment, networking is still essential for professional success. But for many people, networking is not a pleasant experience.
If you are introverted, you have to find a way to break out of it and develop a level of comfort initiating conversations with total strangers.
If you find networking intimidating, don’t feel as if you’re alone. Many professionals who are good at networking have had to work hard to make it look that way. Sure, there are some lucky people who are blessed with a natural gregariousness and are comfortable at high-powered cocktail receptions, but they are the exception, not the norm. It is natural to feel tinges of uneasiness when you attend a networking function by yourself where you know nobody.
If you’re not the most outgoing soul, here is how you can mitigate your shyness:
There is absolutely nothing wrong with rehearsing how you will act in a networking encounter the night before in the quiet privacy of your own home. Some people even practice in front of a mirror. (Disclaimer: the people who live with you might think you’re acting a little weird!)
Observe the Masters
Think of someone you know who is socially gifted, very at ease working a room. Watch that person. Study that person. Think how you can imitate him/her. Each time you go to a networking event, do something he/she does. The best ideas are borrowed. Instead of reinventing the wheel, figure out how you can mimic someone who has already figured it out.
Hold a Drink
I’m not encouraging you to become a drunk, but holding a drink at a social function can help you be more comfortable.
If you’re a non-drinker, there is nothing wrong with holding a soda or virgin cocktail. The drink is useful, because it gives you something to do with your hands. It also gives you the opportunity to look down at it every once in a while. That’s handy, because sometimes it gets hard constantly looking someone in the eye especially when you encounter “Mr. Laser Eyes,” the guy who gets close to your face, stares deeply into your eyes and never blinks. I can’t stand that guy.
Just be careful not to become intoxicated! You don’t want to do anything that would embarrass your company or damage the reputation you are working so hard to build. Some networkers will order one drink and nurse it for a couple hours, just taking infrequent sips. I know of one person who orders a 7-Up with just a tiny amount of alcohol in it. That way, it smells like a drink, but there’s not enough live juice in it to compromise his faculties.
A Positive Vision
Another way of dealing with shyness is to envision success before going to an event. Like a coach mentally preparing athletes for a big game, you can increase your likelihood for success by imagining yourself doing well in a social situation. Sit down for a few minutes at home or behind your closed office door and envision yourself saying the right things, using good interpersonal skills and being professionally assertive. If you do this regularly, you will most likely evolve into a graceful networker.
Brush It Off
Operating out of your comfort zone can increase introversion tendencies. Some networkers worry they will say the wrong thing and sound stupid. Others are afraid to “interrupt” someone at a party. Others fear they might be “rejected” when they reach out to another person. Even as an established professional, it is an unpleasant experience to introduce yourself and attempt to carry on a conversation with someone who clearly appears not to give a damn about you. I know – it’s happened to me plenty of times! When it happens to you, just brush it off and go to the next person.
When someone gives you a cold shoulder, it likely means that person’s problems are greater than yours.
Periodically, you will find yourself at a networking event, standing by yourself with nobody to talk to. You look around the room and everyone is already engaged in conversation with someone else. There are no other “single” people. It can be a little unnerving. When this happens, it’s time to be a pair or trio buster.
Simply look around for a pair or trio of people and walk toward them. Don’t worry if you feel like you’re interrupting. Just go up to the pair or trio and introduce yourself. Be assertive. Sometimes it helps to say, “Mind if I join you?” in a joking sort of way. Ninety-five percent of the pairs you bust open, will welcome you. The other five percent are jerks and not worthy of your company.
Welcome Other Busters
Now, when you are already talking to someone else and a third person tries to bust into your pair, be sure to include that person and make them feel welcome. Treat the conversational newcomer the same way you would like to be treated. Don’t act as if you’re inconvenienced. Just introduce yourselves and allow the person to feel part of the group.
The tone of your voice and your body language will help make such a person feel more welcome. Slightly turn your body toward the new person to make them feel subconsciously included and welcome. If the person comes in mid-conversation, I explain what you have been talking about in an effort to bring the new person up to speed.
Networking gives you the opportunity to be a “connecter,” a person who introduces two people to each other. Go out of your way to connect others to each other. If you connect two people who end up doing business together, you have earned social capital. The two people who profited from that relationship will always appreciate you and owe you a debt of gratitude.
Connecting also helps mitigate introverted feelings. Instead of focusing on the stress of networking, make it your mission to find people you already know but who don’t know each other. Make it a game.
On Your Own
While preparing to go to some function, have you ever worried, “What if I don’t know anyone?” It’s a common concern, but knowing nobody at a networking event is actually a blessing if you have the right attitude. When nobody knows you, you are liberated from all preconceived notions. You have a clean slate. You can establish your image any way you want in front of new people.
Not knowing anyone forces you to actually use your networking skills. Too many people will go to a function and sit in the corner with their friends, co-workers, spouse, whoever. That’s a waste of time. If you’re going to do that, just go to a restaurant.
One last thing…I usually drive by myself to networking functions. I find that I meet more people this way and get more out of the event. You can move around at your own pace not having to keep track of the person you arrived with. Another advantage of driving by yourself is that you can leave whenever you like!
Jeff Beals is a professional speaker and award-winning author, who helps professionals enjoy greater success through effective sales, marketing and personal branding techniques. He delivers energetic and humorous keynote speeches and workshops to audiences worldwide. To discuss booking a presentation, go to JeffBeals.com or email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (402) 637-9300.