Networking isn’t easy. It can take up a lot of your time and it’s hard to keep pitching over and over again. As introverts, it can also be a grueling process.
I’m a naturally introverted person, which for me means that networking and heading to events can sap a colossal amount of energy out of me. Not only that, but I can be an absolute nervous wreck before and during the event.
“What if say something stupid? What if I make a fool out of myself?”
I’m here to tell you, that it genuinely does get easier.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to help me get along. While I’m in no means an expert, I feel far more confident now about attending events on my own.
Practice your pitch
And practice it out loud. Write out a short pitch and become familiar with the key words that describe your blog or business. Five years ago, journalist Áine Kerr asked me while I was writing an article, “Now how would you describe that to a friend?” I haven’t forgotten that advice since. Keep it simple.
Do some networking even before the event
Has the event a page on social media? Are they using a specific hashtag? Check them out! I’ve found that these can be so useful to get a flavour of the attendees and you can even interact with people before the event has begun. You’ll feel far more comfortable with a person you’ve had an online conversation with when you meet them in person.
Have a goal
Tease out why you are attending. Who do you hope to meet? How many people do you hope to connect with? It’s important to set little goals for yourself – it keeps you on the right track too.
Get there early
It’s far more intimidating to head into a room where groups of people have already established conversations across the room. By being early, you can even set the trend and people may start to surround you.
Eye contact with a firm handshake
Eye contact and a firm but brief handshake is always welcome. Who wants to handle a dead fish? It sounds so basic, but the amount of people I’ve met who don’t bother looking at you is crazy. It can also come across as rude, and people may think you’re not interested in what they’re saying at all. I certainly know that I’m very put off when the person I’m talking to is scanning the room behind my head (When I’m nervous, my eyes tend to go everywhere, so I usually take a deep breath before I decide introduce myself to someone).
Listen first, then pitch
If you think about it this way, the person who starts talking is actually at a disadvantage because they’re only being half listened to (Their counterpart is usually practising their own pitch in their head). By speaking second, this means that you can still listen and get a breather while the person you’re talking to will be more focused when conversation turns to you. Hat tip to The Muse for this one.
Try and ignore that negative inner voice
“Why would they want to talk to me? What if I mess up?” Believe me when I say that I have learned from fluffing up but it’s never as major as we imagine it to be. Despite what you may think, you need to believe that you have something to offer. Sometimes people don’t want to talk and they’ll move on – that’s ok! It can be difficult but try not to take it personally. Understand that they’re here to network too and you just mightn’t be a fit.
Wear an icebreaker!
If you have a statement piece or something quirky that you can wear, this can be a fantastic icebreaker (Yes, I do own a Pikachu watch). Not only can you have a bit of a joke about it, but it’s something that you’re familiar with and can ease you into conversation.
Remember, you don’t have to talk to everyone.
This was one of the biggest mistakes I used to make. You may feel like this is your only shot at connecting with people but honestly, it’s not. Try to connect with a handful of people and they’ll remember you far more than that person you just spent two seconds with.
Don’t hang with friends all night
While it’s nice to see people that you know, if they’re already aware of your pitch, there’s no need to stay with them all night. Of course that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be friendly but remind yourself of the little goals you set yourself.
It’s tempting to just stay at a table and not budge. The trick I’ve found, is to move to different groups with a smile and depending on the event, simply ask how they’re doing. “Hi! My name is Úna-Minh”, isn’t a pitch or a sale but it’s a simple introduction that has got me moving. It’s very hard to mess up your own name! “Have you been to this before?” is also a really handy line.
Don’t overdo it with your business cards
While it’s a nice feeling to hand over your business card, it’s good to be selective about who you’re handing them out to. Oftentimes people throw cards in the bin, so make sure you take to the time out to make an impression before you hand the card out. That being said, keep your cards handy where they are within reach and you won’t have to go fumbling in your bag. A card case will keep them free from smudges too.
Have a drink
Don’t be afraid to take a glass of wine if you’re looking to settle your nerves but don’t overdo it – especially if you’re around people you’ve never met before. I always keep a bottle of water in my bag, to keep me hydrated and alert (plus even the motion of taking out a bottle to take a sip, gives me a few seconds to collect my thoughts!).
Step out if you’re feeling overwhelmed
As introverts, it’s natural to position ourselves near an exit for a quick getaway. It’s absolutely ok to go outside or to the bathroom for a quick breather. Take five or ten minutes for yourself. It’s better to go to a safe space and take time to gather your thoughts, rather than be flustered amongst people.
Don’t worry, this doesn’t necessary mean a lunch or a coffee (but it’s certainly worth it if the person really struck you and could help in the future). Simply dropping them an email or a tweet shows that you’ve made an effort to reach out and what’s even better is if you can add in some information that was personal to your conversation.
Points about people
They like to talk about themselves and are often flattered when you’re interested in them. The majority will also reciprocate if you’re showing them sincere interest, are maintaining eye contact, and come across as totally genuine.