Networking events are a great way to make new connections. However, if you are a bit of an introvert, they can be positively painful. Here are a few tips that will help you navigate these events and network effectively:
Show up early. If you arrive at the event a little early, there will only be a few people there. This gives you an opportunity to find a spot and get comfortable. It is less intimidating to approach people because there is usually just a handful of people standing around. Building these connections right away can give you the confidence that you need to navigate the event.
Remind yourself that everyone is uncomfortable. When you are feeling out of your element, you may jump to the conclusion that everyone is comfortable there except for you. This is absolutely not true. Chances are, every person there feels just as awkward as you do (perhaps even more so). They may just be better at hiding it!
Have a few conversation starters ready. Often the most awkward part of meeting new people is starting that first conversation. If you have a few topics in mind, you can break the ice fairly quickly. It does not need to be anything elaborate; Just a simple "What do you do?" or "Have you been to one of these events before?" will suffice.
Be curious about people. People can always tell whether or not you are actually engaged in the conversation. Nothing is as off putting as someone who is just talking to you to pass time. Try not to make people feel that way. Pay attention to what they are saying and try to learn something about them. Be curious about what they do. This will help you build stronger connections and you may actually learn something!
Have a goal in mind. You can feel kind of aimless at networking events, particularly when you are uncomfortable. One way to combat that feeling is to have a clear goal for the event. For example, you could set a goal that you will make three new connections. This goal will focus your energy, which will take your mind off your nerves.
You won't strike gold at every networking event, but if you continue to get out there and you are building relationships with people in your industry, it will open up opportunities for you.
(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of Ben Schonewille at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)