I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually enjoys going to networking events and trying to make meaningful contacts in a room full of strangers. The degree of dread often depends on our individual personality type.
As an introvert, networking is one of my least favorite things on Earth. I like people with whom I share a common interest or two, but I detest the small talk and uncomfortable nature of networking.
It’s draining, anxiety-inducing and sometimes quite painful, but it’s necessary, so it’s worth finding ways to make it work for you.
1. Start by building your network where you’re comfortable.
The best way I’ve found to get your feet wet in networking is to start somewhere you’re already at ease. For me, that was Twitter.
That may sound like a huge cop-out, but by engaging in Twitter chats, I’ve been able to chat with bunches of like-minded professionals I would have never gotten to meet otherwise.
Believe it or not, there are more introverts in PR than you’d think.
2. Build a reputation that precedes you.
The hardest part about networking for introverts isn’t meeting new people but having to introduce and talk about ourselves to new people.
Building a reputation for yourself before you have to go out and meet everyone is a great way to skip the awkward part.
Create a website to showcase your work and your talents, volunteer for a cause that you enjoy and do something that you love. Create a brand for yourself and let it lead the way. (Click to Tweet!)
3. Be consistent.
We all know how important it is to craft your message to fit your audience, but it’s also equally as important to be consistent.
Networking isn’t much different than reaching your audience.
Whatever parts of yourself you choose to share when networking, keep consistent in what you say and do. It’ll be easy to practice and remember what to say when you meet new people.
4. Set goals and a time limit.
It’s unrealistic to expect to make 50 new connections and spend three hours at a networking event when you get anxious chatting with five strangers.
Give yourself a time limit that you’re comfortable with and a reasonable number of connections to make in that time to start with. If you stay longer because you’re enjoying yourself and make more connections, that’s great!
Do whatever you can to make yourself feel confident. Whether it’s practicing and perfecting your personal elevator pitch, planning out your power outfit or reaching out to attendees prior to the event, do whatever will make you feel most comfortable and confident to prepare yourself for the event at hand.
6. Bring an extrovert friend.
Everyone has at least one extrovert friend who has no problem chatting up a room full of new people and becoming friends with them all.
Bring him or her with you! Feed off of his/her energy and get yourself in the right mindset to meet new people. You don’t have to stick by your friend’s side for the whole event, but it’s a great way to get yourself started.
7. Take breaks.
Breaks and moments to recharge are essential for introverts. Just because you’re at a networking event doesn’t mean you should abandon your needs.
Find a quiet corner, step outside or sneak into the restroom for a quick break. Refreshing yourself and refocusing your energy are essential to keeping you going at any event.
8. Focus on compliments, not cards.
Too often at networking events, people focus on just introductions and getting others’ cards.
The purpose of these events is to make meaningful connections; it’s not a race to see who can come home with the most business cards.
Make yourself memorable by making compliments. Whether you admire an acquaintance’s style, work or attitude, let them know, but only if you’re sincere.
9. Plan your own events.
Maybe the setup of the networking events you’ve been to hasn’t worked for you. Then perhaps you should host your own event!
Volunteer for your PRSA chapter’s events committee or work with your alma mater’s alumni organization to plan events for members.
Being in charge of the event may put you at ease while attending because you already know what to expect and attendees will already know who you are if you’ve been vocal while planning the event.
Have you found a particular trick or tip that helps to make networking a bit more bearable for you? Share it with us!
Robyn Rudish-Laning is a graduate of Duquesne University, with a bachelor’s in Public Relations, a master’s in Media Arts and Technology, and currently works as a PR Associate with Pretty Living PR, a boutique firm based in Pittsburgh. Find her on LinkedIn or Twitter or read her PR-focused blog.