(This was co-written by me and Chris Oien for the YNPN blog)
January 19, 2011
Networking is important. You know that, and we know that. It’s pretty much a given. But what do you do if just the thought of networking makes you want to crawl into a hole? We’ve both been there, because we are two of the roughly 25% of people who are introverts.
When it came time for each of us to go to our first YNPN networking event, we debated whether or not to go, and eventually skipped out—leaving a sick feeling in our stomachs. We later did get involved with YNPN; and when we met each other, we realized we had both bailed on the same event. While it had been a lonely experience, neither of us was alone in it, and knowing that was a huge relief.
So in hopes of helping fellow introverts with their networking anxieties, we’re sharing the steps we took to overcome our own.
Step 1: Research the group and key people.
The most effective treatment to resolve your networking anxiety is a heavy dose of preparation. That begins with knowing beforehand who is likely to be at the networking event. Most networking groups or conferences will have some sort of online presence where you can begin your research. For example, if you’re going to attend a YNPN event, you could research board members on the website, members in the directory, see who RSVPs to the Facebook event, or who is talking about the event on Twitter.
A good place to start is to find people you share something with. This can be people in your industry (arts, direct service, environmental, etc.) or people who do the same kind of work (marketing, fundraising, advocacy, etc.). Also, it is helpful to identify a “super connector” that makes sense for you to fold into your network.
Step 2: Connect on social media.
After you’ve completed your research and identified the people you want to connect with, it’s a good idea to reach out to them before an event. Social media has made this easier than ever, especially with young and tech-savvy groups. The top site to turn to is Twitter: Making connections to people you should know is part of its DNA. LinkedIn is also a great resource for connecting to new people on a professional level.
If you connect with members of a networking group and let them know you’re interested in joining, it’s a good bet they’ll be glad to talk to you. Whether you keep it to talking online or ask for an in-person meeting, when it’s event time you’ll be glad to know there are people involved who will recognize you and can introduce you to others.
Step 3: Know your talking points.
You’ve researched people, you’ve connected with them on social media, and now you’re ready to dive into conversation, but not until you’ve properly prepared talking points. Talking points can be a combination of referencing the theme of the event and asking simple questions.
Themed networking events, like speed networking or an ugly sweater party, provide more structured activities and fun icebreakers to ease the flow of conversation. These types of networking events ensure that you’ll worry much less about being on the sideline while other people talk.
Whether or not your networking event has a theme, be ready with a list of questions to ask the people you meet. Keep your questions simple (e.g. How did you get involved with this networking group?), so you don’t forget them or get tripped up. Making certain to have questions ready ahead of time reduces anxiety and avoids those uncomfortable long pauses.
Step 4: Set specific goals.
It’s important to leave a networking event feeling like a success. To do so, come with goals you’ve set for yourself beforehand (e.g. talk to a specific person, network with at least three people, etc.). Once you reach these goals, feel free to excuse yourself. If you go right after an awkward exchange or after you’ve sat in the corner alone for a while, you’re going to feel like a failure and this will strongly deter your motivation to attend future events. If you instead leave after ticking that last goal off your list, you’ll feel accomplished and encouraged to keep coming back.
Introverts will likely always have that initial networking anxiety, but by following these steps, you can learn to master it and become just as successful as the most outgoing extrovert.
Fellow introverts: What are your best networking tips and tricks?
And for the extroverts: What do you do to help the introverts at networking events feel comfortable?