How to Network for SHY People

This week I had the opportunity to attend two great networking events. The first was a Social Media Breakfast (http://www.socialmediabreakfast.com/) which are held all over Canadian during the year. This breakfast required waking up at 5:30 am to attend from 7:30-9. Despite thinking I would be incredibly tired and grumpy, I met a co-worker and partner there and had a great time. This was my first real and professional networking event.

Later on that night I attended an auction for charity (http://www.awesome-auction.com/) and though I didn’t network with other professionals, I witnessed my boss and Director of Business Development work there magic. In a way I feel I networked with both my boss and the director. We did a lot of talking and getting to know each other both professionally and personally. Over all it was a good night, and we won an espresso machine and a karaoke machine!!!

In my everyday life, I am a huge extrovert. I love talking to people and making them laugh. As soon as you put me in a room full of strangers, I clam right up and hide in a corner. During school the only networking events I attended were career fairs which are incredibly nerve racking.

Just your dream employer and you trying to make an impression on them out of a room full of 500 desperate students. They hold all the power with their silly booth and pamphlets.

Not fun at all. Not very practical either. In real world networking, its just a bunch of professionals playing on the same level looking for a mutually beneficial relationship.

As a shy networker I’ve tried looking up advice only to find the most useless after-school-special junk:

  • Just Be yourself
  • Jump in and take the Risk
  • See a Shrink

See a SHRINK!? Is there something medically wrong with me? That’s probably the worst I’ve ever heard. I doubt your shyness is that bad. It’s natural to be shy in new situations.

Here is some practical networking advice tested out by a fellow shy networker:

  • Bring a Friend: You’ll obviously feel more comfortable having somebody you know at your side. They can cheer you on and be your fall back in an awkward situation. If you bring a pro networker, learn from them. Watch them in action and try to get yourself in on their conversations. Once you feel more confident, try networking alone so you don’t let them overpower you.

An important side note is that when you are at a career fair, it is best to approach an employer alone as they see “tag-teaming” as a weakness and that you lack confidence.

  • Start Small: Everybody goes into networking with goals to meet certain people, or talk to their dream employer. Never EVER start with them! Work your way up, get yourself into the groove of things. Start getting a conversation pattern going and a sense of questions that employers may ask you. Once you feel comfortable, step up to your dream employer’s booth and use that practice. When you start small, you make the mistakes on people you really don’t care about. Just save the best for last! 
  • Don’t stick to talking business: A good friend of mind attended an event as the employer so she got to witness everything from the “power” point of view. She said the best conversation she ever had with a prospective student was about Family Guy. Yup. Family Guy. The one thing employers hate is students who just won’t stop bragging about themselves and have pointless and boring business talk. Show your personality and your passions. Get friendly! That’s what makes you memorable and people will envision themselves working with somebody warm and friendly rather than some pompous jerk with a BWM and Gucci cufflinks.
  • Do Your Research: Whether or not your are shy you NEED to do this before networking but the shy people need to take that research and prepare conversation points. In case your conversation ever turns a little bit awkward, pull out one of your prepared conversation points! Make the Girl Guides and Boy Scouts proud: always be prepared.
  • Take Your Cue and Leave Gracefully: This is bound to happen even to seasoned professional networkers. At some point your conversation may begin to feel a little forced. You need to be able to listen and feel for these cues. Never overstay your welcome as that will just leave a bad taste in the employer’s mouth. Say something polite like “Well I’ll let you go, it was such a pleasure meeting you and I look forward to _____” or “Please excuse me, I need to refresh my drink, thank you for your time…”. Leave on a positive tone, thank them and gracefully exit.

Dale Carnegie is a very famous business man who wrote the book on networking in 1936 called How to Win Friends and Influence People. From this book there are 4 very basic points any networking students should take away:

  • Smile!:You may not even notice or think about this but you really need to face new people with a welcoming smile instead of a nervous scowl.
  • Ask Questions: A great way for shy people to network is to listen in to a group of people networking, understand the conversation, form an opinion and ask a question. Don’t just stand there awkwardly listening in, contribute to the conversation and people will willingly engage you.
  • Listen: Here’s the best thing a shy person can do. Say nothing and all and just listen with sincere interest. People love to talk about themselves and if you listen intently they will continue on having the time of their life all while you say nothing. Brilliant!
  • Bring Business Cards: Nothing looks sillier than talking to an employer, getting their interest and now they want to continue this conversation outside of the event and you don’t have a single business card. Come prepared!
  • Say their Name: We’re all egotistical and love to hear our own name so make sure you repeat it (just not too much). When you say somebody’s name, they begin to feel more comfortable (plus it great to help you remember).

What are some little networking tips you use? How do you get over the nervousness whenever you face a room full of strangers? Post a comment below!

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