How To Win At Networking: A Guide For The Shy

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

Our world is built on relationships, and knowing the right person at the right time can take your career to the next level.

But networking for work – even when it’s something you do daily – poses different challenges. It can feel stilted, or weird. People give out business cards without a hello. New contacts walk away as they spy someone more senior.

For shy or introverted people, networking is even harder. When you prefer your own company, putting yourself out there is daunting. You could feel out of your depth. You might not know what to say. You may be afraid to start.

But you can prepare for networking. And win at it.

Focus on a few key people

Unless you’re trying to build an email list, quality always trumps quantity. Focus your attention on just a few people. With the rise of online signups, you can sometimes scope out other attendees beforehand, and work out who to target.

Remember their names

It’s basic courtesy, and an absolute necessity.

Preparation is everything

If striking up conversation strikes fear into your heart, spend some time beforehand preparing. Write some notes about interesting articles or events that are relevant. Check industry news for recent developments or talking points. If the event starts with a talk or panel, take note of some of the aspects you find most interesting.

Ask questions

The best way to avoid talking about yourself is to get someone else talking – and to listen. Some great starter questions include: What brings you here? What do you do? How did you end up doing that? What does that involve?

Have a goal in mind

You should always build a network before you need it, but don’t be afraid to share your goals. Networking is a two way transaction; your new contact won’t put you in touch with their recruiting friend if they don’t know you’re looking!

But focus on giving

The key to good networking is to put the other person’s needs and interests first. Don’t undersell yourself: you have value, and paying it forward now could come in handy later. Not to mention that doing something good, feels good.

That said, your time is precious

You’ve come with a goal in mind, and you’ve got a set amount of time to complete it. If someone is rude, or conversation too awkward, it’s fine to excuse yourself and meet someone new. This is, after all, business networking with strangers – not a family birthday party.

Remember to follow up

Exchanging emails or LinkedIn invitations is the perfect way to cement a relationship in person, but you’ll need to follow up. Sending a courtesy message is a good way to start; mentioning something you spoke about will help them remember you. If you recommended a book or podcast in conversation, send them a link to it. This is a helpful courtesy, and proves your value as a knowledgeable professional.

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