How to Network: if you're shy.

I often speak to individuals and groups about how they can better network their way to new communities, new businesses, new jobs.  If you're comfortable with this thing we call "networking", it can be easy to forget that not everyone is.  Some people are easy talkers, not the least bit afraid of waking up to the loudest group in the room and joining right in (um... have you met me?)  Some people rather make a few year's worth of dentist appointments than even think about going to a networking event.  So, what can you do if you know you need to get out there, but you also know you're the shy type? 

Just as there are different ways to network, there are different types of networkers.  The same strategy doesn't work for everyone, and its far more important to be authentic than to be right.  Your biggest asset, and your best story, is the true you.  You can hone your message, but keep your approach in line with who you are and what you want to accomplish. 

Here are some tips for shy networkers:

  1. Bring a friend.  This one's probably pretty obvious.  If you're going along with someone who makes you comfortable, you'll be more comfortable.  Bartering for dinner works well here!
  2. Scope the nametag table.  You might find someone you know, and at least can prep for potential conversations by peeking at organization names.
  3. Make a deal with yourself.  Put something on your calendar and make yourself a deal.  You'll go for 20 minutes and talk to at least 2 people.  Chances are, you'll stay longer and talk more once you get started.
  4. Find a program.  Look for an event that has a program attached - a lecture, presentation, workshop.  You'll be comfortable sitting and listening with just a few moments of networking at the end, and the content will give you something to talk about.
  5. Walk the periphery.  Look for someone else who looks as shy and uncomfortable as you feel and introduce yourself.  They will be so relieved, you'll have a best friend for the evening!

I'm sure there are conversations nearer the corners that I miss out on when I'm yukking it up in the middle of the room, but that's me.  If you are a shy networker, you're not at a disadvantage, you're just you.  But I do encourage you to get more comfortable with it so that you can tell your best story and (gulp!) maybe even enjoy one of those networking events.