Let's all agree: networking is the worst. For introverts and those who would rather be at home in their jammies like 100 percent of the day, networking can be the ultimate evil. But, if you want to move your career forward, it is a necessary one.
Networking is about making and strengthening new connections. It’s about not being afraid to shout, “Here I am world! I’m competent and educated and a credit to my field!” Sure, it would be great if we introverts could just hide behind our computers at home and expand our professional and social circles through safe and forgettable LinkedIn invites. Sadly, “Hi, I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” has turned into such a joke that it even works as a universal punchline for New Yorker cartoons.
So how do you drag yourself outside and meet new people when the one thing you hate more than anything is talking to new people? How do you learn to shake a stranger's hand when you would willingly drink an entire bottle of hot sauce instead? And, how do you come up with talking points when the words "cocktail party banter" make your skin crawl? Sadly, in this business climate the introvert can't stay in their cocoon forever (or maybe we can!). There are, thankfully, a few tricks that can turn socializing for work into something less odious. Scan the list below and take the first steps towards easing the pain of the networking game, and show the professional world what a beautiful butterfly you have become!
1. Set A Goal
Dreading attending another loathsome event? Make the experience more of a game by setting a specific goal for that night. The target can be time or achievement related — for example, "I'll leave once I've talked to three new people in my field," "I'll leave after one hour is up," or "I'll leave once I have exchanged emails with X." Satisfy your aim, and not only will you have a feeling of accomplishment, but the effort will all be worth it.
2. Do The Research
Whether you are attending an event or meeting with someone for an informational, feeling prepared can enhance confidence. Googling those you are about to meet will give you more clear direction and specificity with your questions. It my even hint at how you can help each other. Most of us who hate to socialize are also particularly fluent at the Internet, so research is a strong suit. You can even make a list of talking points before hand, but do not take it out in public!
3. Give Yourself A Pep Talk
There is nothing like stepping into a tank of barracudas wearing name tags to make you feel like a small fish in a big pond, and confidence can wain. Remind yourself of your own value before going into an uncomfortable situation. When in danger of becoming a wallflower, do a secret affirmation or give yourself a little pep talk in the bathroom. Forbes suggests that this can help make you invaluable: "Before you attend any networking event, get clear on what talents, strengths, skill sets and connections you can bring to the table." You've got a lot of good stuff going for you already, keep that in mind, and you will seem even more secure than you feel.
4. Remember To Be A Human
It's important to go through the motions of basic human socialization such as making eye contact and smiling when talking to new people. If you don't socialize a lot, even that can feel like a stretch when every fiber of your being is telling you to run and hide. Keep in mind that an exchange of social pleasantries such as "How was your weekend?" or "What's the weather like out there?" can ease you into a conversation and make you more personable. It's totally natural to feel odd or uncomfortable, and don't put pressure on yourself to be funny, or witty, or smart 100 percent of the time. Just be ready to say thank you and exchange contact info — and if someone is going in for a hand shake, remember, firm grip!
5. Bring An Outgoing Friend
If you feel shaky and awkward when it comes to talking to strangers, why not bring a friend to events to smooth things out and make introductions for you? Meeting new people isn't a chore or a challenge for an enthusiastic extrovert, and even your friend can benefit from extra networking. By working as a team you and your friend can help each other further your careers and they can give you the push you need to walk up to the biggest cheese in the room and proudly say "Hi, my name is..." Plus, if nothing pans out at least you got to spend time with a buddy.
6. Reach Out To People For One On One Meetings
It is much less threatening to talk to people privately one on one, than in a group setting. Reach out to your professional network, family, and friends for contacts whom you might benefit from meeting. Do not be afraid to email these references and introduce yourself, even if you are just starting out. It might turn out that they are willing to meet with you to discuss their career path, and can offer excellent advice or helpful connections.
7. Treat Yo' Self
In order to get through the challenges of socializing it helps to have something to look forward to at the end. Be sure to reward yourself after a hard day of networking, and putting yourself out there. Whether that treat is a fancy cookie or day of marathoning TV, you deserve it. Great job, now go out there and do it again!