A good friend recently said this about networking, “How do you get over that old feeling from your youth you’ll come across as a dork?”
Well, first off, I was a fellow dork who watched one opportunity after another pass me by because of the awkwardness of networking situations. It’s a problem that can be fixed. Networking doesn’t have to be like a trip to the dentist, a “necessary evil” for introverts. You can actually enjoy it.
So how do you break the ice? Have a plan. If you know who’s coming in advance, do a little homework. Check some LinkedIn profiles. Approach someone by introducing yourself and ask the person about something in their background that you found of interest. This mutual interest may be common schooling, a professional concern, the same organization, the same activity, etc.
If you don’t have an advanced list, be current on what’s happening that day. Your goal is to be interesting. Be prepared to share content that others care about.
Avoid the minutia of what you do. Talk about the benefits of what you do in plain English.
Be helpful. You are an expert in something. Give that expertise away to people who could use it.
Listen carefully. Try to locate the “pain” in their business endeavors (we all have some) and offer help relieving it. Being introverted has its advantages. You are more comfortable listening than talking and listeners are often a big hit with extroverts. Listening is a skill, nurture it. Ask for advice. People love to give it.
If you are really shy, consider a suggestion by career counselor Katharine Brooks: attach one phrase to your name tag: “Ask me about…” and then fill in whatever topic you want to talk about.
Have a name tag you can read. I bring my own to events because you often get scribbled tags that force you to squint at someone’s chest. That has its pitfalls. We often don’t catch the name and it is helpful to use theirs when talking to them.
Always bring business cards. I can’t believe how many people at networking events don’t have them. The excuse doesn’t matter. You come across as poorly prepared.
Communication coach Nancy Ancowitz suggests volunteering at events. A task gives you instant contact with people without an introduction.
We’ve all met people who look past us at mixers because we weren’t important enough to them. That’s their problem, not yours. Most importantly, believe in yourself. There is something special about you. Share it. No one was ever shot for saying hello. Just be yourself and stick out your hand.
The author co-hosts a presentation on introductions at the Guilderland Chamber of Commerce on Friday, May 4th. Open to everyone. See details.