You are a talented individual, one that many business owners would love to have as part of their team. That talent, however, may not be recognized beyond your present circle for one big reason: you are introverted and networking is the hardest thing for you to do.
We all know that networking is important, especially for future job opportunities. But, if you are too shy to connect, then you just will not gain the exposure you desperately need. While shyness is cute when you are young it can be debilitating when you are mature. Here is how to connect with others:
1. Be yourself. You are who you are. There is nothing wrong with that. Rather than looking at your shyness as a problem or even a disability, you should recognize that it is who you are. Chances are you have some attributes that others would love to possess including empathy, excellent listening skills and a solid work ethic. These are the traits you need to display as you connect with people.
2. Get ready. A networking event is looming. Instead of looking at it with dread, consider the opportunity it presents. At such events there usually are people that will come up to you, but you do not have to wait for that to happen. Either way, you should be prepared to offer up a conversation starter. A simple one is this, “Hi, my name is Mark and I am from Ohio. What is your name and where are you from?” Use your initial question to begin a conversation, allowing the other person to answer and ask questions too. Soon, you will feel more comfortable with yourself and confident too.
3. Meet and greet. If you already know people at a networking event, you are have an advantage already in place. You can ask this person to introduce you to someone else. A commonality is always a good way to meet others. For instance, if you work in the IT department, you can ask your host if other IT people are present. They are the people you want to meet as you will have common interests and a possible future job connection.
4. Commit yourself. You may already feel that a particular networking event will be hard to make a connection. This is understandable as some venues are more challenging than others. At the same time, you need to stick it out while you are there. That means setting a minimum time limit before allowing yourself to leave. That limit might be a half hour or enough time to slap on a name tag, head to the appetizer table and find someone to talk with.
5. Listen, then talk. Nervous people, once they begin to talk, sometimes do not know when to stop. When you engage in a conversation listen first, then talk later. By allowing someone else to speak, you can take in what they are saying and gain some time and composure to provide a response. You will also come across as an empathetic listener and gain respect from people you converse with.
6. Practice makes comfortable. Practice may make perfect but it can also make you feel more comfortable. Consider a few short stories or one-liners you might use to start a conversation. Practice these before you set out, choosing the right one for the moment. Do not worry about bombing — many people do. You can control what you said, but you cannot control how it was received. If received poorly, do not sweat it. Just move on.
Lather, Rinse and Repeat
Just as you perform certain repetitive steps when washing your hair you can do likewise with networking. Make it a habit to meet people and you will feel more comfortable as you repeat the process. You may never feel absolutely at ease when networking, but you will not be alone. Few people shine in this area; most have found ways to make it work for them.
See Also — 7 Tips for Effective Networking