Networking events. These are two words that might give some introverted IT professionals the shivers. But they don’t have to be so scary if you approach it with a strategy in mind.
As a former PR professional, networking events were always a necessary part of my job. But I’m not a natural-born schmoozer. In fact, it was always very nerve-racking for me. I’d either get tongue-tied or I’d have to keep repeating myself in order to be heard. Being the quiet introvert that I am, I usually wanted to head for the hills the minute I was faced with a loud crowd of people who already seemed to know each other. Who am I to interrupt? Now, a little wiser and more mature, I have a different perspective. Oh, I’m still an introvert and not quite in my element at networking events or even in big groups, but I don’t feel quite so ill at ease. Based on my own collective experiences, observations and trial-and-errors, I’ve come to realize that networking isn’t the big scary monster that I imagined it to be. By organizing your thoughts and developing a plan of action, you’ll feel a bit more confident going into a networking event and you’ll have idea of what you should be getting out of it. Here are a few tips:
Have a goal and set some objectives.
Before you arrive at your networking event, decide what you want to get out of it. Then, figure out how you’re going to achieve it. For people who are list-makers, this is a great way to ensure that your time at the event is well-spent.
Memorize and practice your elevator pitch.
You never know when a networking opportunity will present itself – in an actual elevator, at a party, on the golf course. So, be prepared.
Put your game face on.
When you know you have a networking event to go to. Psych yourself up for it. Get mentally prepared and, when the time comes, focus.
Keep some mints with you.
Unless you just brushed your teeth, pop some mints in your mouth before engaging in conversation. Oftentimes, people are unaware of how their breath smells. So, better to be safe than sorry.
Introduce yourself or make an observation.
Don’t know what to talk about with the person standing next to you? A simple, “Hi, my name is…” would suffice. Or, make an observation that you both can relate to: “This guacamole dip is amazing!”
Pay attention to name tags.
Sometimes name tags include the name of your employer and/or your title, which might be a good conversation-starter. I was at an event that asked participants to include the first concert we’d ever been to. That was definitely a conversation-starter!
Practice makes perfect.
Interacting with people in a fluid, natural way requires practice. Take every opportunity to do this. It doesn’t even need to be a formal networking event. Volunteer to man your company’s tradeshow booth. Lead team meetings.
When in doubt, think “who cares?”
Blunt as it is, this is my own personal mantra that nudges me toward taking action when I feel shy or embarrassed. For instance, I need to ask that woman for her business card before I leave the event. If I’m apologetic and polite, she probably won’t care that I had to interrupt her conversation to get it.
Put yourself in other people’s shoes.
Guess what. You’re not the only introvert in the crowd. And everyone is there for similar reasons. When you step out of your comfort zone, you might be pleasantly surprised that people are very responsive. But when they’re not, you’ll know when it’s time to move on.
Ask questions and listen to answers.
Communication is a two-way street. Don’t hog the conversation by talking about yourself the entire time. When you’re trying to build a professional relationship, ask questions to determine if this person can help you or if you can help him.
These tips are meant to help you get through the door and, once you’re in, what you need to do to make the most of it. What other tips would you add to the list? What has worked for you?