Friday, March 9, 2012
How to Network When You're Shy
I am hosting a networking skills workshop on Monday for The Community Cup here in Ottawa and so I thought I would share a few of my thoughts on how you can be an effective at networker despite being a shy person.
Most people who know me believe that I'm a extrovert and that might be true to some extent but I have always felt that I am really a shy person that simply learned how to overcome it. I learned how to confront my shyness and overcome it by developing skills and a system that worked for me yet I still find myself sweating before I walk into an event. Here's how I have learned to network despite being a shy person.
Prepare Yourself: Take the time in advance of any networking to really work on how you describe yourself and your experience. Practice out loud and even spend time recording yourself. Listen back to your recordings and figure out the best words and combinations of words that make your description pop. Having the words handy to introduce and describe yourself gives you the confidence you are going to need to talk to people.
Research: I could write a whole post on this alone but use Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to learn more about the people and companies you want to meet. Here's a little nugget for you: do some work to find out who is going in advance to an event and arrive with some idea of the people you might want to talk to. This has never been easier because events often use online registration tools (like EventBrite or Meetup.com) that generate a list of attendees and people often tweet about an event they are going to. Spend a few minutes looking around or even ask the organizer if you can get a list of attendees before you go. Doing some research will help you be familiar with people BEFORE you meet them.
Be Active on Social Platforms: This might not work for everyone and apply to all communities but based on my experience, one of easier ways to get over being shy and doing network is to be active on social platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn. For Twitter, make sure your username is your real name and your picture looks like you (this isn't Plenty Of Fish, you want people to recognize you easily not think you're hot). If there is an event hashtag, watch for it and participate in advance. If you did your research, retweet people going to the event and get on their radar. For LinkedIn, see if there is a group around the event and participate in the discussion. The goal here is to have people come up to you at the event and introduce themselves to you. Trust me, this actually happens and it works. I can't tell you how many times I've walked into an event sweating with nervousness and somebody has come up to me to introduce themselves. If you are able to get really good at doing this, you have won the war before the battle even starts.
Start and Screw Up Early: Would you rather have a bad interaction with John Doe or Bill Gates? Make your mistakes early and with the "little fish" because, trust me, you're going to make some mistakes and it's easier and less costly if you make those mistakes early so you can learn from them and that you don't do it with CEO's or other power players at a time when it could really hurt you. When I was doing my MBA, I did informational interviews with recent grads and I screwed up a few of them. I also went as many networking functions as I could (even if they weren't the best events) so that I could get some practice. If you start your networking practice early then you'll be rocking when it really counts. I have heard that it takes up to 150 connections to make one quality connection so the sooner you meet more people, the more likely you are to make important connections.
Set Goals for Events: Before you go to an event, set a few goals for yourself like meeting three new people and helping to connect two people. Having goals like this will help you focus your energy and avoid being stuck in a corner the whole time. This was a big part of my success in networking because it pushed me to get over any initial reservations or shyness. After a few months of events, you get used to the cadence of networking and it becomes much more natural.
Get Over Yourself: Sure, your ultimate goal is to sell yourself but people love to talk about themselves so the best way to get to know somebody and get comfortable is to ask them a bunch of great questions about themselves. The best way to start a conversation is to ask somebody about what they do. I always know I'm doing this right when the other person asks me "so tell me about yourself" because it means I'm not blabbing on about things that I'm doing.
Bonus: Watch the booze. If you're shy, you might be tempted to have a few drinks to loosen yourself up but there is a really fine line between having a drink and having too many drinks and it's easy to cross it if you're nervous. I will say that there are some less formal events that I go to in the tech/startup community where people are drinking. People in these communities work hard, know each other personally and often get together at events to blow off steam, celebrate success and see friends. However I believe that only an experienced networker is sharp enough to know when they are at these types of events so I recommend you stay off the sauce until you're good enough to know when the time is right.
Photo credit: Grant Wickes