We know that many people fear public speaking more than death. The fear of rejection and ostracism often prevent us from expressing ourselves in a room full of strangers. It’s these same fears that make networking so uncomfortable, particularly for the introverts among us.
These events can be mentally and physically draining, and there seem to be limitless opportunities for awkward interactions: missed handshakes, long silences, and fumbled introductions.
Here are some ways to make it easier to step out of your comfort zone and get the most out of networking:
Bring a friend.
Standing alone in a crowded room full of strangers can be anxiety-inducing for almost anyone. Having an ally is a game changer. Ask a colleague or friend to tag along and help break up some of those awkward moments. Jumping into conversations on your own can also be a challenge. But having someone introduce you to new contacts makes it much easier.
Set a goal (or two).
It’s ok to start small. You don’t have to land a job or fill up your contact list from one event (and you probably won’t). This is just the first step. Maybe you’d like to meet 5 new people this time or make just one great connection. Setting a goal allows you to stay focused and gauge your progress.
Do your homework.
Some networking events and meetup groups allow you to see the guest list beforehand. If it’s available, check it to see who’ll be there. If you’re interested in connecting with a specific person, take some time to find out more about them. What are their passions outside of work? Have they achieved any major milestones recently? What might they be looking for in a potential partner, service provider or employee?
Listen like you mean it (and actually mean it).
Introverts are usually good listeners, but it’s worth repeating. People appreciate it when they know they’re being heard. The best way to signal that you’re genuinely tuned in is to make good eye contact. Open your body up to the person you’re talking to and ask questions that demonstrate that you’ve understood.
Skip the small talk.
Everyone hates it, and we all do it; we use meaningless filler to avoid long silences. But no one is passionate about the weather (except meteorologists) and there are better ways to make a lasting impression on a new acquaintance.
Ask questions that allow other people to tell their story. Find out passions outside of work, where they plan to travel or what projects or trends they’re really excited about. You don’t have to carry the conversation, and you’re still getting closer to the person you’re speaking to.
Ask for advice.
People love to be consulted. It feels good to know that your opinion is valued. Plot twist: this is also a good way to convey some of your own achievements or objectives without coming off as arrogant. Try phrases like:
“I’d love to get your perspective on this…”
“I’ve been working on X, and I’m curious to get your take on it…”
“You’re probably the perfect person to ask about this…”
Leave the conversation on a high note.
So you’ve made a great first impression and you’re running out of things to talk about. How do you end the conversation without making it seem abrupt or rude?
Try some of these:
“Excuse me, I’m going to grab a drink”
“Pardon me while I use the bathroom”
“It was great to meet you, let’s stay in touch.”
(Jokingly) “I’m going to keep working the room, but let’s keep in touch.”
“Let me take your information so we can connect again.”
It’s never too soon to do this. After the event, take a second to text or email your new contact and tell them that it was a pleasure to meet them. Remind them who you are and mention something notable about your conversation if you can, because they may have met a lot of people.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Not every conversation will go smoothly. That’s life. As introverts, we tend to replay awkward interactions in our minds in high definition. There’s a good chance you’re overthinking it, but if you feel that there’s something you could have explained better, feel free to use your follow up email to fill in any gaps.
There will be other events and other chances to reconnect. Each one is a good opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and try something new.
It’s ok to take breaks during an event. Step out for a moment if you can and join in again when you’re ready. After the event, grab a good book, some comfort food and have a quiet night in to unwind.