As the founder of a large professional networking organization, I get a lot of questions from people who are shy or introverted. They ask how they can make attending networking events more comfortable. If you want to network with confidence, consider these 7 quick tips to before you head to your next networking event.
1. Arrive for ‘Introvert Hour’
The beginning of an event is the perfect time to arrive if you’re shy or introverted. There are fewer people there at this time, so it is easier to engage in a conversation without being interrupted. If you make one great connection early in the night it can be the springboard to build your confidence. You can also leverage your new relationship to meet other people throughout the course of the event.
2. Hang near the bar
Hanging out near the corner of the bar or food table are two great places to meet people. Most people go straight to the bar when they arrive at an event. As they turn to exit the bar and move into the room, they’ll typically be pleased to have a friendly face extending an invitation to chat.
3. Bring a wing person
While it’s not ideal to hang with someone you know throughout an event, it can be a nice way to get situated. If you come with someone, work with one another to lookout for great contacts and make introductions. It’s also great to allow someone else to build your credibility. For example, if you’re standing together and your wing person shares some highlights about you with the person you meet, it puts you in a great light without having to humble brag.
4. Take a timeout
A networking event can be overwhelming for anyone, even if you don’t consider yourself shy or introverted. Allow yourself to go to the restroom to take a minute to yourself, or go check out the food table for a quick breather.
5. Remember, everyone is in the same boat
If you feel intimidated or overwhelmed at the premise of how to maneuver a room full of strangers, remember that everyone was a stranger at some point. Take a deep breath and recognize everyone is there because they want to meet new people — it takes the fear factor out of approaching someone you don’t know. In most cases, said stranger will be relieved that you introduced yourself. Walk up to someone, make eye contact and extend your hand to introduce yourself.
6. Keep a few icebreakers top of mind
It can be overwhelming to know what to say when you meet someone. Consider keeping a few icebreaker questions or topics in mind as a go-to. Include things like how they heard about the event or how long they’ve been involved with ‘X’; questions about their family; what they enjoy doing around town; or what they do and what’s exciting on the horizon for them. It’s always best to ask genuine questions. Try to create a natural dialogue that doesn’t just focus on their work. This helps to leave a lasting impression and find out what makes them tick.
7. Set a goal to meet 3-5 people
Rather than attempting to meet as many people as possible, make a goal to meet 3-5 people during an event. This allows you to fully engage in each conversation. You won’t feel anxious that you need to meet someone new. It gives you an opportunity to leave, should you so choose, once you’ve hit your goal. Focusing on how your goal may also take your mind off of any anxiety you have about being there.
Networking is about relationships
Remember, professional networking is really just another term for relationship building. Consider the people you meet as potential new friends. Just explore getting to know them. Also, consider the places where you’re networking.
If you feel that people aren’t as inclusive or you don’t click with them, that’s okay. Find another event that is a more natural fit. Connecting and relationship building (a.k.a., networking) should be enjoyable. So find ways to make it work for your personality.
This article has been edited.
Darrah Brustein is a writer, master-networker, and serial entrepreneur with businesses in merchant services, networking, and financial education for kids.