I’ll be honest. I hate networking. Even the idea of going into a room full of people, introducing myself and making small talk makes me feel anxious, uncomfortable and tired. Why? I’m a naturally shy person.
Of course, I’m not alone. Many shy people share these feelings toward formal networking. Introverts similarly don’t love the task.
Unfortunately, hating networking doesn’t mean you can avoid it. Especially for women in the public sector, networking can be the key to professional success. It can connect you with an awesome mentor, expand your network, build your personal brand, and even expose you to potential new job opportunities.
So what’s a shy gal to do? You can’t avoid networking, but you can make it easier on yourself as a shy or introverted person. Below are five tips to make networking more comfortable for you, which in turn will increase your chances of doing it well and getting the most out of it.
Tip #1: Avoid formal networking sessions.
You don’t have to go to the monthly meet-and-greet session with 50 other professionals in order to network. In fact, if you’re shy, you should avoid them. Putting yourself in that situation can actually be harmful to your confidence or, worse, reputation because you aren’t putting yourself in a position to succeed.
Instead, consider smaller group gatherings focused on something relevant to your field, like a panel discussion or roundtable. These events not only reduce the number of people you need to interact with at one time, they also give you something to talk about that is professionally relevant.
Tip #2: Start with people you know.
If you find the idea of interacting with even a small group of new contacts intimidating, don’t worry. You can still build your network without mingling with unknowns. Instead of reaching out to someone you aren’t familiar with, start with a colleague or friend who you already know. Ask them to share their network with you, one person at a time.
This achieves two key networking goals. It strengthens an existing relationship and it provides a meaningful connection to someone new. And because you have a mutual acquaintance, you automatically have something familiar to discuss with your new contact.
Tip #3: Avoid setting numerical goals.
Whether you’re at a networking event or trying to expand your circle one person at a time, you will likely hear the advice to set a numerical goal for how many people you want to meet. Ignore that advice.
For extroverts, this goal can help motivate them to meet more people. However, for the shy or introverted, a target number of new contacts – however small – can be counterproductive, making the networking process feel even more unnatural and stressful.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set a goal for yourself. But instead of focusing on the number of people you want to meet, judge your success by the depth of the connection you make. You’ll likely have more success connecting with a single person – giving yourself time to become comfortable with them – than quickly and nervously introducing yourself to several people.
Tip #4: Focus on how you can help the other person.
You should have a mutually beneficial relationship with your professional network. Like any other relationship, networking is a give and take. But if you feel uncomfortable with the taking piece, particularly from new connections, it might help you to focus on how you can help the other person first.
Focus your initial conversation on your new contact. Ask them questions about their interests, ambitions, and how you can support them. That way, you don’t have to worry about whether your networking seems natural or genuine because you’re not focused on yourself.
Eventually your contact will return the favor, but with this tactic that discussion happens down the road, when you are more familiar with the person and more comfortable asking for a helping hand.
Tip #5: Share stories.
When it does come time to talk about yourself, you might still find it challenging to really talk yourself up. If you’re an introvert, your enthusiasm or confidence may not shine through. If you’re shy, talking about yourself probably feels a little awkward. In either scenario, you can avoid discomfort by sharing storing about your work.
Think about it ahead of time and consider a story or two that show what you work on and how you do it. Did you achieve great results on a particular project? Tell the other person about the project itself. Offering a narrative of your work, even if you don’t talk about yourself specifically, can still give the other person a good idea of what you’re about.
For tips to network as an introvert, be sure to check out this previous article. Have any other tips for networking as a shy or introverted person? Share them in the comments section below.