How to Make Networking Suck Less (for Introverts & Shy Folk)Picture this:
You’re going to a networking event. You signed up weeks ago thinking you’d be feeling good and energized and ready to meet strangers. The day has arrived and you’re suddenly feeling a little uneasy about it. Throughout the day you remind yourself “you’re going to this networking thing, you need to meet people to grow your business, don’t be such a pansy about it.”
The clock ticks on and as the time draws closer you’re coming up with new excuses not to go - you’re tired, it’s been a long day, you just talked to a new person at the dog park the other day - can that count as your networking for the week? (Unless you handed them your business card, absolutely not, and even if you did, probably not).
Your friend who signed up to go this event with you texts to checkin and confirm that you’re coming - whew! A buddy! Networking events are always easier with a buddy! So your nerves subside some and you wind up at the check-in table. Your friend goes ahead of you and strikes up a good ol’ extroverted conversation with someone on the way to the drink station, leaving you like a lost puppy trying to follow her and wondering why you came to this in the first place.
You’re starting to sweat, breath shallower, your heart is racing when someone approaches out of the corner of your eye. “Hi!” this woman says as she thrusts her hand toward you, “my name is Becky, what’s yours?”
It has begun.
Now you have to remember all the cool things you do in your business and why people should work with you while also remembering this person’s name and the details of their business and don’t forget to be charming and ask questions to show your interest but not so interested that you don’t also talk about yourself and and and...
So how exactly can introverts rock the necessary-but-nervewracking networking scene? I’ve got 5 simple steps that I have personally tested and refined to get over my own social anxiety so that I get out there, make connections and not quarantine myself for 3 days afterwards to recuperate.
1. Practice. KEEP GOING.Just like babies learn how to walk, you can learn to network. Practice makes better. Go to different kinds of events - big ones, little ones, happy hour, mornings or lunch, women-only, industry-specific. You’ll start to get a rhythm and a feel for the types of events, locations, times and audience that work best for your personality and for your business.
In addition, every time you go to an event, you’ll become less and less nervous. The fear of the unknown will subside because you’ll start to know what to expect. Some events happen quarterly, monthly or even weekly - in these you’ll get used to the location AND the audience! The unknown becomes the known and you get more comfortable in these situations.
2. Enlist a buddy.Take someone with you! Having someone to stand by and chat with will alleviate the nerves of being the solo person at the party.
Maybe your buddy is an extrovert and can do the work of initiating conversations so then you can just roll along with it. If this is a great buddy, she can also help direct the conversation towards you and what you do so that you aren’t left out, standing there like an awkward, silent third wheel.
Maybe your buddy is a fellow introvert and the two of you can tackle the fear together - trade off who initiates and support each other getting out of your comfort zones.
3. Give yourself a mantra - “They’re more scared of you than you are of them.”A very small part of the population never gets nervous meeting new people. More or less everyone is at least a teensy bit nervous when they meet new people. Evolutionarily, fitting in is a really important thing and these days that biological construct manifests itself in our trying to be accepted by the groups we find ourselves in.
It helps me level the playing field in my mind to remember this. Sometimes I’ll go to an event and feel like a little fish in a big pond and self-doubt creeps in. Then I put my shoulders back, stand just a little taller and remember that everyone is nervous about something every now and then.
4. Give yourself parameters and boundaries.An open-ended social engagement can be overwhelming just to think about. In these instances, give yourself mini goals to accomplish so that you can leave and feel good about the experience. Some examples of these goals include:
- Talk to 3 people
- Hand out 10 business cards
- Shake 5 hands
- Set 2 follow-up meetings
5. Embrace the nerves.You’re probably going to be nervous for a good long while, maybe even forever. I don’t think my nerves will ever subside completely but I’ve gotten better about embracing them. Sometimes I think to myself that the tummy turning over is like a Power Surge and that visual makes me smile and helps me walk a little taller.
I hope these tips will help other introverts take the leap and attend more networking events! If you need a buddy to go to an event with here in Denver, drop me a line and I’ll go with you! Get out there, push your own limits and grow your business.