Networking can be intimidating. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert (a blend of the two). Networking is putting yourself out there. It’s getting vulnerable in a space that isn’t always (read: rarely) comfortable. It’s hoping for the best and, if you’re hard on yourself like I can be, generally expecting the worst.
It has taken me a long time to become comfortable with networking. We’re talking years here, not mere months. When I was in college, hearing the word ‘networking’ was enough to make my palms sweat. I would stress for weeks leading up to the next networking event. I’d falter when I was introducing myself, laugh uncomfortably during a lull in conversation, and most often retreat to the back of the room or head out early if I “couldn’t” find someone to chat with.
Though, it’s important to be uncomfortable. You learn from the experiences that intimidate you. At least, I like to think so. And, over time, those situations aren’t as intimidating. You fall into a rhythm, a routine — one that allows you to shine in networking events without all of that looming doubt and time spent second-guessing yourself.
Yet, it’s always easier said than done, right? I could certainly sit here behind the veil of my laptop and tell you it’s as easy as 1-2-3 to get over your fear of networking, but it’s not. Nothing that’s worth it comes that easy. So, instead, I’d like to share some steps for easing into networking and to hopefully subside the fear that comes along with it.
Networking events, conferences, and the like can be intimidating. So I’d like to challenge you to start small. Sure, there are situations where diving in headfirst is best, like ripping off a band-aid that you’ve left on for about a week too long. Networking isn’t necessarily one of those situations. Start by networking digitally. You’re connecting with new people on Instagram all the time. Why not take the next step and send them a note? If you’re not so comfortable with sliding into their DMs, send them an email instead. Introduce yourself, and quickly get to the point. Why are you emailing them and why should it be worth their time?
READ: 7 Places to Network (That You Haven’t Thought of Yet)
It’s all about connecting (and also preparation)
Do your research. Don’t go in blind. If the guest list is available for an event you’re attending or there’s a hashtag for the conference you’re gearing up for, use it! Take advantage of the time you have before the conference to take a peek at who may be there.
And, if you spot someone that you’d like to connect with, be prepared to have a few conversation starters on hand. People love to talk about themselves, so what better way to take the pressure off of you than by giving them the opportunity to take the floor? Metaphorically, of course.
Plus, you’ll feel prepared and at least a little bit more at ease knowing who you’re (hopefully) going to be meeting at the event.
READ: 5 Conversation Starters to Take Networking to the Next Level
We’re all in it together
While networking does generally get easier over time, it’s still awkward for most! So, laugh it off and accept that you’re in an awkward situation. Though, one that might yield some impressive benefits. In fact, all of my full-time roles have come from networking. All of them. That’s the power of networking. It took some getting out of my own head and a few solo pep talks to realize that I could do it. And, you can too!
When you are at an event, take stock of the room. Do you see another gal who appears to be nervous (like most of us)? Head her way and spark up a conversation. You don’t need to dive in with a stellar joke or groundbreaking question. Just start the conversation by introducing yourself. Most likely, you’ll find your way to some common ground.
Bring a friend
When all else fails, lean on one of your friends. But don’t fall into the trap of only talking to your friend all evening! Give yourselves 30 minutes to become acquainted with the space, the guests, and the vibe of the evening. Then, make it a point to not talk to each other for the next hour. Yes. An hour. Spend that time mixing and mingling, and meeting at least two new people. The worst that’ll happen is you’ll end up in an awkward conversation, which you’ll learn, over time, to exit gracefully. Or, you might spell red wine on yourself, like me. So — a bonus tip? Bring a Tide Pen with you. It’s a lifesaver.