Dear Sam: Due to the lack of in-person events during the pandemic, I haven’t been able to practice my networking skills the way I would have liked. Also, I’m naturally shy, fairly reserved, and more comfortable in small groups than in large networking events. Now that in-person events are making a comeback, I need to push myself to get out there and build some relationships in my industry and community. I once heard you speak where you shared a story about how nervous you were when you first started speaking in front of large groups, and only through repeated practice did you become the comfortable public speaker you are today. I would love to feel a little more comfortable walking into a crowded room and admitting who I am to strangers! Any tips? -Jen
Dear Jens: Thank you for coming to one of my presentations! And yes, I too am an introvert, might be described as shy by some, reserved by nature and prefer small to large groups. The good news, however, is that you can learn to be more successful in these network and group situations. Many people struggle with feeling awkward and unnatural in these social situations. Instead of pretending to be someone you’re not and trying to approach networking like an extrovert, take the time to prepare ahead of time and use your strengths as an introvert. Here are some tips to help you navigate through these events:
Before you head off to your next networking event, set your goal: what do you want to learn from others? What would you like others to know about you? Have a few questions ready (you can even write some down), such as: For example, “How did you get into ____?” or “What would make someone the ideal employee for your company or organization?” Creating a list of questions can help you avoid that awkward silence. You can also do your research in advance by finding out who is going to the event – this can give you an idea of who you might want to speak to in person. Here’s how I approach events: I’m a listener first, I ask questions to get the other person talking, and I make them feel comfortable—and that’s why I become even more comfortable—by taking a genuine interest show who they are and what they do.
2. Focus on one-on-one conversations
Networking events that require collaboration with large groups are especially intimidating for introverts. Instead of thinking that you need to connect with most at an event, set a goal to maybe only connect with a handful of people. Achieving a small goal is far better than setting unrealistic expectations and feeling like you’ve failed. Instead of focusing on the quantity of the conversations you have with others, focus on the quality. Try to have conversations with one person at a time, and focus on making sure those conversations are productive.
3. Be approachable
If you’re uncomfortable approaching strangers, there are ways to make yourself more approachable so that people come up to talk to you. Smile, make eye contact, and use open body language (ie, don’t cross your arms in front of your chest, don’t stare at your phone, and don’t hide against the wall). By staying present in the moment and exuding a friendly vibe, people are more likely to want to get to know you. I find that the hardest part in these group situations is walking up to someone to start a conversation. So if you change your body language, others will often come up to you and remove some of the barriers to networking.
4. Bring a friend
Invite a colleague or friend to your next networking event. Having at least one familiar face can help calm your nerves and give you someone to introduce to others. However, try to avoid just talking to that friend – remember the event is about meeting new people!
As an introvert, it can be difficult to open up to others and form relationships with new people. However, statistics show that over 80% of jobs are secured through networking, so avoiding networking opportunities can be a crucial career mistake. Focus on your strengths to support this process, and remember that the goal is to build long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.
Samantha Nolan is an Advanced Personal Branding Strategist and Career Specialist, Founder and CEO of Nolan Branding. Have a resume, career, or job search question for Dear Sam? Reach out to Samantha below email@example.com. For information on Nolan Branding’s services, visit www.nolanbranding.com or call 888-9-MY-BRAND or 614-570-3442.