Most folks hate networking. I used to hate networking. It felt forced, awkward, and I didn’t know how to approach people or what to say.
However, over time, despite being an introvert, I’ve learned to not only get more comfortable with networking but to actually enjoy it! Here are my tips.
Treat like any other skill you want to develop
Just like developing your programming skills or your presentation skills, this is another professional skill that you should practice and refine over time.
Practice makes perfect
Just like your other professional skills, you won’t be good at it overnight but over time, you will improve. The more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll get, so don’t skip events — treat them as practice.
Set goals in the meantime
For example, every month I will attend at least one event (virtual or in-person), and I will talk to at least two people or engage with the group by saying at least 3 things.
Give yourself grace
Just like any other skill you’re practicing, there will be mistakes. That’s all part of the process. You’re still working on improving this skill, so accept that you might not do it perfectly.
In the meantime, “fake it til you make it”
Think about a friend or someone you know who is good at this type of thing and try to emulate them. You’re not being completely fake, you’re just using them as inspiration.
Know that most people find it awkward
Everyone complains about networking, so it’s likely that the majority of the people at the event also feel awkward. It’s likely that most people at an event are feeling awkward and waiting for someone else to approach them and start a conversation so they don’t have to stand around, awkwardly alone. So be the “hero” that “rescues” those folks. Approach them.
And usually, most people are so distracted by their own awkwardness that they won’t notice yours. They probably don’t care or won’t notice if you come off a little bit nervous. Presumably everyone there is an adult and behaving professionally, so even if they did notice, why would they say anything? They can likely relate to how you feel.
Remind yourself that networking events and professional events are intended to make connections
Everyone is there to meet new folks, so you should be initiating conversations with strangers. The whole point is to approach people you don’t know and get to know them. Remind yourself that it would be weird if you attended an event and didn’t approach someone.
People love to talk about themselves
Ask questions to get the conversation started:
- What do you do
- Where do you work
- How long have you been there
- What are you working on right now
- Where and what did you study
- Are you part of any other professional groups or go to other events like this
- (If applicable) What did you think of the presentation?
Hopefully, they will answer your question and then ask it back to you. Once you start learning about each other, you can ask follow-up questions. Once the conversation hits a lull, ask if you can connect on LinkedIn — have the app already downloaded to your phone so you can easily connect on the spot.
How do you feel about networking? Any other tips that have helped you improve your networking skills?