If the idea of walking into a room full of people and talking to any of them makes you want to crawl back into bed for a week, this post is for you. And the advice is coming from someone like you (me). Many people (extroverts) say that to be successful in business or with your career, you have to suck in your entire personality and just “become an extrovert” for the ten, fifteen, or fifty minutes it takes to do some successful networking. They are, of course, incorrect. Introverts just need to prepare in their own way.
Before you get ready for your networking debut, take a look at our three part series on how to start, steer, and continue the networking conversation. It might help to practice a bit of this light networking conversation with a friend. Here are some ways to feel comfortable and confident, allowing you to get that conversation started.
Start small. There is no reason to choose a huge conference to be your first, best networking opportunity. Start small. Test your skills at a semi-local lunch time discussion or evening lecture—a weekly series is perfect. Test group sizes until you find one that is comfortable for you.
Prepare. Never been to this type of meeting or gathering before? Plan on dropping by before your big networking debut to check it out – see what people are wearing, when they get there, how late they stay. You don’t have to network this time – this trip is purely recognizance. Going once before you try to start networking also allows people to recognize you the next time you show up. If you chose a lunch discussion or cocktail hour, you can strategically cover lulls in the conversation or periods of not talking by eating or drinking.
Get ready. Prepare your favorite and most comfortable outfit in the correct dress code the night before. Iron it, wash it, lay it out. Make sure you have it ready to go. This includes shoes and socks/stockings. If you don’t feel comfortable in your clothing, it will be harder to achieve the confidence you need to talk to people. If you don’t have anything you feel good in that is dressy enough, you need to go shopping. Bring a friend. Don’t leave until you have a good outfit.
Go alone. Leave early. Earlier than you think you really need to. Ideally, you’ll have already been to the location so you know where to go and how long it will take you to get there, but not being late is a bit confidence booster. If you’re one of the first folks to show up, it will be more intimate and easier to start up a conversation. Go alone. It’s tempting, when you are shy or an introvert, to want to bring a friend along as a stranger-shield. Your networking results will be much better if you go alone.
Be an expert. Begin your networking efforts by attending events where you are an expert in the subject matter. Being an expert will make you more confident and comfortable sharing your opinions and theories. Since a big part of networking is just making a very human connection with others, that willingness to share is important. This is usually where most people (extroverts) get advice about being a good listener – hopefully those years of being quiet or shy or otherwise introverted will have already given you this skill. You can put it to good use by listening until you feel ready to speak up, then engaging what you’ve heard in your conversation.
Set a goal. For example, bring 10 business cards. When you’ve handed them out as the natural conclusion of quality conversations with ten people, you can leave. You may need to adjust the amount for your exact situation. This just gives you a concrete goal for the evening.
Networking is a skill like anything else – you might not enjoy it, but you need to develop it. Start small and build your way up to larger events. As you improve your networking skills, you’ll be more comfortable with the entire process. The idea of networking won’t be as stressful. Instead, you’ll be fully prepared to take it on like a pro!