Q: I recently lost my job of seven years. Some of my friends are encouraging me to attend networking events. I’m not good with crowds and consider myself to be shy and introverted. What should I do? —Kincaid
A: In my humble opinion, being an introvert or being shy is not necessarily a permanent state. Admittedly, it can be a challenge, but there are things you can do to eventually become more comfortable in business and social settings.
So whether you are introverted, like Kincaid, inexperienced or simply reluctant—perhaps re-entering the workforce after a long absence—here are 12 networking tips to help you ease into the scene:
1. Attend the Event with a Networking Buddy
Preferably go with someone who has recent networking experience and is comfortable in this type of setting. Caution: Avoid latching on to them. Once they’ve made introductions, spread your wings.Ever been stuck in a #NetworkingEvent where the conversation has come to a dead end or you’re caught in an endless #SalesPitch? Practice an #ExitStrategy in front of the mirror so you can politely disengage yourself. Click To Tweet
2. Wear Something You Feel Good in
Yes, put on something you are comfortable in and that is appropriate for the venue. For example, if you never wear high heels or a necktie, don’t put them on for the first time the day of the event or interview; it’ll probably be evident. Do step it up a bit to show you put in some effort.
3. Research the Event
To find out more about the networking event, don’t hesitate to contact the host. Talking to them in advance could settle your nerves. You can ask questions like: “How many people do you expect?” and “Will there be a speaker?” Tell the host you are new to this and more than likely they’ll invite you to seek them out at the event.
4. Look Up Random Social Media Trends
Starting a conversation with someone new can be a paralyzing experience. It’s a good idea to stir up your courage and come armed with a few prepared topics. Keep the subjects of conversation neutral and uplifting. “Have you hear about ‘X’? It’s all over Twitter today.” Or: “How often do you attend networking events? This is my first in five years.” By being honest about your lack of experience, you’ll probably receive all the networking tips you need.
5. Set a Comfortable Time Limit
If you are going out to a networking event for the first time, set a limit of only 30 minutes. That way, no matter how it’s going, there’s an end in sight. And if you’re having a fabulous time, you can always extend the deadline.
6. Have Your Own Transportation
See point 5. If you have set yourself a time limit—or just want the peace of mind knowing that you aren’t trapped and at the mercy of someone else’s ride—then arrange for you own transportation.
7. Stop by the Restroom Before Entering the Venue
Take a deep breath. Wash your hands and dry them well (No one wants a damp handshake). Look into the mirror to make sure everything is tucked in and zipped up. Use breath freshener. Now you’re ready to go.
8. Choose Your Approach
Some people believe that standing near the refreshment table is a good place to start; striking up a conversation about food can be a piece of cake. Another option is to approach a group of three, because people in even numbers tend to be paired off, making you feel like a fifth wheel. Or two people super engaged in conversation may not be open to an “intruder.” And while it could be easy for you to approach another loner, be aware they may be just as introverted as you, leaving both you standing there awkwardly.
9. Carry a Portfolio
It can be calming to hold something in your hands, especially something useful like a portfolio, which makes you look ready for business (more so than a drink), with business cards to hand out, and pen and paper to take notes.
10. Eat and Drink in Moderation
If both your hands are full with food and drink, you’re going to have trouble introducing yourself with a handshake. If you must eat and drink, do one at a time and hold it in your left hand so your right is free. After all, you’re there to mingle not munch, right?
11. Memorize an Exit Phrase
If a conversation has come to a dead end or you’ve been stuck listening to a 20-minute sales pitch, have your exit strategy memorized. Perhaps use polite phrases like: “Glad to have met you. Would you please excuse me?” Or: “I’ll let you go. We’re here to mingle, right?” If you’re nervous about ending a conversation, try practicing at home in front of a mirror. Memorize a phrase and say it out loud.
12. Don’t Be Discouraged by a Bad Event
Not all networking events, or the people attending them, are agreeable. Luckily, every professional community has multiple networking opportunities, so don’t be discouraged if you didn’t make any connections at one event, or the talk was too “salesy,” or you didn’t talk much at all. The point is, you got out there. You watched, listened and learned that people attend such functions for different reasons, and not everyone is welcoming or behaves in a professional manner.
So, to sum up my networking tips: Come to an event prepared and focused on your purpose. Recap in your mind all the skills you possess, to build your confidence. Remember that it’s okay to feel tense and timid; it’s how you deal with these feelings that counts. Also be aware that every person attending has their own agenda, and not everyone is receptive or nice. Finally, remember that we all have to start somewhere.
Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, Workplace Civility, Soft Skills, Business Etiquette Expert, Media Source, and author of “Don’t Burp in the Boardroom.”
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