Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Six Tips To Keep You From Feeling Like A Wallflower At Your Next Networking Event

I’ll confess up-front; I’m an introvert. I spend a lot of time on my own – and I find it tiring to be around lots of other people.


Being an introvert actually works out pretty well for me. I’m a writer, so a big part of my day involves sitting at my computer, working alone. When I do work with other people as a writing coach, it’s usually one-on-one (I can cope with one other person!)

Of course, I can’t spend the whole of my life alone or with just close friends and family. In both my professional and personal life, I get out there and meet people from time to time. And I’ve learned a few tricks along the way. If you’re an introvert – if you feel shy and awkward in a room full of strangers – then here’s how to make it easier for yourself:

#1: Get to Know People Beforehand

One of the many things I love about the internet is that it makes it incredibly easy for me, an introvert, to strike up a connection with total strangers. When I’ve been to networking events, I’ve found it incredibly helpful to have some established friends there already.

How do you find people who’ll be at the event? Try:
  • Forums or similar on the event’s website
  • Twitter – search for the name of the event
  • Blog posts – is anyone you know going?
  • Facebook – the event itself may have a page
  • LinkedIn – will any of your contacts (or their contacts) be attending?
Obviously, this one’s easier if you operate in a pretty geeky world (I hang out with a lot of bloggers and writers...) but more and more people are getting online, in all sorts of professions.

If you’re going to a very large event, like a multi-day conference, you may want to make specific plans to meet up. You could even arrive a bit early so you can get a meal with a friend or a small group of friends before the event itself starts.

#2: Go Prepared

If you’re attending a new event, you might have all sorts of worries about how to get there, what it will be like, who’ll be there, and so on.

I’m always less anxious when I feel well-prepared, and I expect the same will apply to you. That means:
Find out the dress code in advance. There might not be one – ask friends/colleagues who’ve attended before. Err on the side of over-dressing ... though if you’re in a suit and everyone else is wearing jeans, you may feel a bit awkward.

Take a pen and small notebook. As a writer, I carry these with me anyway – but they’re useful to have on hand in all sorts of situations.

Take business cards. You might have stock ones from work, but if you create your own cards, try to make them interesting. I use Moo.com to create cards with several different designs – that way, my new contacts can pick whichever one they like best. It’s a great talking point and much more interesting than thrusting a boring black-and-white card at someone.

Carry breath mints, a comb, makeup, deodorant etc. Be prepared to make last-minute touch-ups to your appearance before you go into the event. You’ll know better than me what you’re likely to need!
Take a map (or know the exact address). Allow a bit of extra time to get there, too, if you’re going somewhere new for the first time.

#3: Start a Conversation Straight Away

Have you ever been standing around awkwardly, trying to get up the courage to go and speak to someone? The longer you wait, the harder it is! When I was a student, I made a point of speaking in the first ten minutes of any class – that way, I found I was much more confident about contributing as the class went on.

The same applies to networking. As soon as you arrive, find someone to chat to. It’s often easy to strike up a conversation in the registration queue, for instance. Questions like “Have you been to this before?” can be a great way to get someone else chatting.

#4: Look for Someone Else Who Seems Shy

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