By Jim Wong, CPA | June 3, 2015

Networking is a large part of today’s business culture. It’s what you do to get job referrals, learn about new job opportunities and build business connections. But, not everyone is a suave, people-person who can work a crowd.

As a former accountant myself, I know that the likes of my old profession and those in information technology by trade, generally are more introverted than extroverted. Therefore, going to the next networking soiree is not at the top of their list as activities they want to do.

However, as I’ve learned the importance of networking over the years, I’ve sucked it up and developed my people skills so that I could enhance my own network and business. I’ve found that while networking can be intimidating at first, the more you do it the easier and more beneficial the relationship-building encounters become.

Forbes also emphasized the importance of how to network when you’re a self-described introvert, in a recent article on the same topic. I think a lot of what’s discussed is great for those looking for advice on the concept of networking all together.

So, if you’re a nervous nelly and need some pointers, or a schmoozer who just needs a refresher on the basics, here are seven tips to help make your networking experience a little more bearable:

1. Relax
It’s important to realize that you’re not alone. Many people are uncomfortable attending networking events, especially if they’re new to an industry, recently graduated or just starting to go about advancing their careers. Take a moment before you walk into a room to prepare yourself physically. Take a deep breath; loosen your head, neck and shoulders; and stand up tall. These movements will immediately boost your posture, poise and confidence.
2. Start small
You don’t have to stay the whole duration of a networking event. If you’re dreading going to one because it’s slated to be four hours, plan to stay for just a portion of the time. Give yourself a clear timeframe and then leave when that time comes. Additionally, don’t think you have to talk with every person in the room. Try talking with two to three people at first and ask for their contact information. Then, be sure to follow up with those individuals after the event. Quality is always better than quantity.
3. Listen
Often times, people who are shy or introverted are excellent listeners. If you walk into a conversation but are hesitant to contribute, simply ask an open-ended question and then listen. In general, people like talking about themselves. Be interested and curious about who you are speaking to. Ask yourself, how can I help this person? You’ll most likely get insight from fellow peers or even leaders into the market, business or industry that you’re in which can be very helpful in your job search or career advancement.
4. Go with a friend
It’s OK to bring a wingman to a networking event. Whether that person is in the same profession or not, usually the event promoters want as many people to attend as possible. So, don’t be afraid to ask a co-worker or friend to go with you. This may take away some of the anxiety of going alone and they can reap the same benefits as you i.e. gain access to like professionals, learn about job opportunities, etc. at the same time. This can help you slowly get more comfortable with the networking process as a whole as time goes on.
5. Play off your strengths
Every person has value to add to a networking event in some capacity. So, walk in with a plan. Before you go, jot down your strengths, recent achievements, special talents and overall skillsets and be prepared to talk about them. It’s usually the easiest to talk about things you’re good at. Don’t make it any harder on yourself than it needs to be. Have an agenda of go-to items to discuss when you strike up a conversation with someone or when someone strikes up one with you.
6. Stick with social media
These days, networking comes in all shapes and sizes. You can network from the comfort of your home or office simply by going online and having a presence on various social media channels like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Overall, this can be a good place to start your networking experience before heading out to that next in-person event. Join groups, follow companies and people, and engage in discussions. As long as you stay active and connect with individuals in your profession and industry, you’ll be building a network of peers and leaders that can be beneficial to you along the way.
7. Follow up
The best networkers are the ones who follow up with the people they meet at networking events. Utilizing number two on this list and only meet with a handful of people, will make it more manageable to follow up effectively and timely. Be sure to send the person something of value, or something memorable from your conversation. Specifically, send information on a topic you were discussing, introduce them to someone you know that may be helpful to them, and / or simply send a note saying that it was nice to meet them.

What are some others ways you can learn to network if you’re shy or introverted? Comment below and let us know!

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