If you’re anything like me, you’ll find networking a terrifying prospect. The thought of going up to a random stranger and ‘selling yourself’ on the spot makes me feel like running for the hills. When you’re not the most socially extroverted person, finding the courage to speak to someone you don’t know and maintain a conversation is no easy task.
But there are ways you can still make those all important connections without completely freaking out. These top tips will help you tackle the scariest of social situations as an introvert, and come out of it feeling confident. Just go at your own pace and don’t compare yourself to others – you know what is a win for you.
It is JUST a conversation
This is essentially the hardest thing to get your head around. Don’t walk up to someone and talk to them like it’s an audition. If it comes across as overwhelmingly obvious you want something from them, they’ll be put off anyway. Just imagine you’re at a pre-drinks where you don’t really know anyone, and it’s up to you to go up to someone and make a friend. You wouldn’t walk up to them and immediately start banging on about that amazing holiday you went on last year. You would introduce yourself, get to know them and ask some questions – networking works in essentially the same way.
Find a networking buddy
Especially for a first-timer, heading to a networking event alone can make it seem even more terrifying. You’ll probably find it way easier to take a friend along so you can approach people together, especially if that friend is slightly more extroverted than you. They’ll likely make you feel more comfortable in the conversation, and you won’t have to panic about who you’re going to talk to if you can’t find anyone else. Just don’t let them dominate the conversation too much – it’s easy to sit back and let them take the wheel, but make sure you use them as springboard into the conversation, not as an excuse not to get involved.
Start off small
Networking can come in all shapes and sizes. You naturally might imagine a formal networking event, with business types in suits dotted around a large room eating nibbles. But networking actually happens all the time – with people on your course, with tutors, at events and conferences. These slightly more informal interactions will help prepare you for the more traditional ‘networking en masse’ where you’ll have to work the room. Start small and make your way up, you’ll soon grow in confidence enough to tackle situations you never thought you would be able to.
Come up with a natural conversation opener
If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t do well with spontaneous speaking, then make sure to plan what you’re going to say in advance – not word for word though, or you’ll end up sounding like a robot. Think about something you can say that would work as a natural conversation starter – if they’ve just done a talk for instance, you could mention something from that. You could say something about the event and its location, a connection you have with the company or a burning question you’ve been thinking about.
Think of an action plan
Take this with a pinch of salt – don’t go in there with too much of an agenda as it will look obvious. The only agenda you should have really is to make a connection with that person, and perhaps give them your business card if you have one. You’ll have a link within the industry, they’re more likely to remember your face at future events and job openings, and that’s what networking is all about.
That being said, you might want to ask a really specific question, enquire about work experience opportunities or ask if you can drop them an email at a future date for some more advice. These are all fine, but you might want to plan in advance how you’re going to get around to these in the conversation so you don’t just blurt it out mid-sentence. Think about what you want and how you’re going to get there, and you should feel a lot calmer.
Listen to what they say
This one might seem silly, but if you’re stressed out about the fact that you’re actually having a conversation with the CEO of a company, it is easy to get too stuck in your head. But while you’re internally shouting ‘OMG, how is this happening, what do I do, what do I say!?’, the person if front of you is actually speaking and as soon as they stop, they’re going to expect a response. So try and switch off your brain a little bit, focus on the words you’re listening too and respond when necessary.
And don’t forget to show you’re actually listening by nodding your head and making some responsive noises along the way (you know the ones, ‘hmmm’ ‘ahhh’ ‘oh really?’). Be an engaged listener and you’ll make a good impression.
Remember you’re not inferior
Don’t waltz up to a senior company recruiter and start bossing them around like you run the world. But at the same time, don’t be too timid and deferential. Don’t be afraid to express your opinion about something, especially when you’re asked, and feel free to share your own experiences when necessary. Yes, they may be older than you, but that doesn’t mean they’re far superior, and if you talk to them the same way you would talk to headteacher when you’re being told off at school, then you’re going to have a problem.