Networking is becoming more and more important in both business and in life. Whether it be to find new clients, develop partnerships, find talent or land yourself a new job, networking is certainly a skill worth learning. But if (like me) you cringe at the thought of walking up to a stranger to introduce yourself, then this guide—aptly named the Awkward Person’s Guide to Networking—is for you.
The good news is that most networking guides out there agree that networking is indeed a skill you can master; however, most imply that you should take on a certain (extroverted) persona that may seem far removed from your true self. Pretending to be someone you’re not definitely won’t make networking events more enjoyable. Don’t worry: this guide won’t shun your awkwardness—it’ll embrace it.
Here are tips for networking like a pro, from one Awkward Person to another:
1. Do your research
Find out what the event is about. Find out who the other people going are. Do some LinkedIn stalking from the safety of your own desk. Perhaps someone you know is going so you can hang out with them while warming up. Or maybe someone with a really intriguing background is going and you’ll have lots in common to chat about. Single out the people you’d like to talk to beforehand and know what you want to talk about – this will not only make the event less stressful but also far more productive.
2. Wear something you feel comfortable in
It may seem superfluous, but if you dress up for the event in clothes you’d never usually wear, you’re way more likely to feel uncomfortable. Wear something you like and feel confident in.
3. Take the pressure off
Learn to accept that not all networking events will be successful.
So you didn’t get to talk to the people you wanted to? Don’t worry, there’s always email.
So you ended up standing in the corner sipping a cocktail all evening? It’s really not the end of the world—you even got a free drink, right?
It might help to frame the event in your head as ‘I’m just gonna pop in to see what it’s all about, and if I see someone interesting I might just start to chat with him.’
4. Identify your pain points and prepare for them
What are your biggest networking pain points?
Is it standing by yourself? Consider bringing a friend.
Is it when people come up to you? Prepare some questions you feel comfortable asking and see where the chat takes you. You can always excuse yourself with going to the loo/having a cigarette/taking a phone call if it just isn’t for you.
My own pain point is walking up to a group and entering the conversation. What I try to do is to find a group where at least one person isn’t actively engaged or looks a little lost. I’ll go up to talk to that person (a lot of people find networking hard so they’ll probably be happy you made the move). Starting by talking to just one person is a seamless way of joining a whole group.
5. Go for a smoke/grab some fresh air
Outside, you can approach other smokers/breathers with an opener like ‘are you here for the event?’ or ‘what do you think of it so far?’ It’s an easy, not-so-awkward icebreaker that feels natural to most.
6. Have a drink (but maybe not five)
If you’re a bit shy, there’s nothing wrong with having a drink to help calm your nerves. Just don’t get too wild and make sure to drink lots of water so that you won’t have to consult a Post-Networking Hangover Guide.
7. Know that you’re not alone
Networking is a great opportunity to make like-minded (read: similarly awkward) friends. I tend to naturally bond with people who also feel like fish out of water at these things. After all, not all of us come out of the womb with business cards in hand. But everyone can end up having interesting conversations and making new connections.
8. Practice makes perfect
Your first few events may feel painful, but believe me: the more of these you attend, the easier they’ll become. You’ll be feeling more confident and enthusiastic in no time.