11 Networking Tips for the Socially Shy
If walking into a room filled with people sends your heart into overdrive and turns your palms into a balmy mess, you’re not alone. Approximately 15 million Americans have social anxiety. But unfortunately, as business owners we’re the face of our company, so networking is a necessary evil. To help calm your fears, follow these 11 tips and, as with many things in life, practice makes perfect so the more you do it, the more networking mojo you’ll own!
Photo by Capture Photography
1. Start Connecting Beforehand: If you know of any particular pros who are going to be at the event, start the convo early by commenting on their social media, “I’ll be at the Aisle Society Happy Hour, too! Looking forward to connecting with you there!” That way, they’ll already be expecting to meet you and that can relieve the pressure of the unsolicited greeting.
2. Start Small: A 200+ person gala isn’t a proper springboard for your networking skills. Begin with smaller, local events and grow from there.
3. Pass on the Plates: Most networking events are cocktail-style, so unless you’re able park at a highboy, pass on the plated fare. Trying to balance a drink, plate, and fishing out your business card will only leave you feeling awkward and flustered.
4. Keep Drinking to a Minimum: It’s easy to let alcohol ease your anxiety, but you never want to appear intoxicated at a professional event. Even if you can handle your booze, if colleagues see you throwing five drinks back within a two-hour window, they may pass judgment. Keep it at two, three tops.
5. Have Talking Points Prepared: You don’t want to sound like a robot, but to help keep yourself from freezing up, have a solid idea of what you want to say about yourself and your business.
6. Compliment Someone: This is a great ice-breaker and, let’s face it, who doesn’t love compliments? Keep it genuine and try to include some sort of personal inclusion to spring off of their response so the compliment-driven convo doesn’t immediately grow stale. Example: “Wow, I love your shoes — they look so stylish yet comfortable! Where did you get them?” “Thanks! I got them at J.Crew!” “Oh that’s awesome — I’m a planner so I’m always on the hunt for a great pair! What is it that you do?”
7. Ask Questions: Just like compliments, people love talking about themselves! Introverts are natural listeners so utilize your skills! To make a deeper connection, don’t just ask about their business — ask about where they’re from, what neighborhood they live in, etc. You might learn that you are alums from the same university or you grew up in the same neighborhood or both love pilates! And that is how the person will remember you.
8. Stay Authentic: Most people can sense when someone is networking merely for their own personal agenda. Be true to who you are and generous in your conversation. Networking shouldn’t be a one-sided experience.
9. Tag Along: If you have an industry friend who is a bit more involved in the social scene, ask if you can tag along and if they’ll introduce you to some of their connections.
10. Be Humble: Avoid giving someone unsolicited advice, boasting immensely about your business or putting down competitors.
11. Follow-Up: After coming home with a slew of business cards, make notes immediately on the cards that will remind you of something from the conversation you had with that person, while it’s still fresh in your mind. The next day, follow-up with a “Great meeting you!” email, mentioning specifics about your convo so that it stands out. Use this opportunity for any further actionable exchanges, whether it’s grabbing coffee or collaborating on a styled shoot together.