According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am an INTJ—an introvert through and through. So for years, at networking events, I simply wouldn't talk. I would smile, nod, and answer if spoken to directly, but I definitely wouldn't initiate a discussion with a stranger.
The other day, though, I attended a networking event and by the end, I had talked with over half of the people in attendance, picked up a handful of business cards, and even made a friend or two. The reality didn't sink in until after the event—I had nailed the networking event, and to my astonishment, even enjoyed it.
How did I do it? Here are a few of my newly discovered secrets.
Go in With Confidence
At some point, I recognized that I have something valuable to offer in a discussion, even with a stranger. Not to brag, but I'm fascinating. And you know what? So are you. Sometimes, though, it takes some soul searching to put this into perspective. Ask yourself these questions: What am I good at? What do I love to talk about? What do my friends ask my advice about? Where have I succeeded in the past? Likely, you’ll find a common thread in your answers, pointing to where your confidence originates.
For me, it’s learning. I love sharing what I’m currently learning in my job or in my classes. So now, before I go into a networking event, I remind myself of that. I also remind myself that I am probably the only person in the room who can offer insight on what is going on in my life—hence, giving myself permission to speak about my accomplishments.
Note though, that there is a fine line between arrogance and confidence. Networking is not just about you, it’s also about the person you’re speaking to. Focus the conversation on them, but remember that they’re trying to focus the conversation on you in return. It’s a delicate balance.
Prep Yourself With Conversation Starters
My mind used to go blank when I entered a networking event. I was intimidated and therefore couldn't think of one coherent thing to say. Now, before I go into a networking event, I'll run through a few of my favorite conversation starters, like “Where do you work?” “What do you like most about your job?” “Any advice for someone entering your industry?” People love to give advice and talk about themselves, so asking anything about the other person’s interests, career, or expertise will definitely spark a conversation.
If you can, research the attendees ahead of time by looking at the guest list or checking Twitter to see who’s tweeting in advance of the event. Find out who they are, where they work, and what the overall dynamic is going to be at the event so that your conversation starters are customized to the group of people you’ll be spending the next few hours with.
It's cheesy, but when I enter a networking event, I imagine myself as a social butterfly—fluttering from person to person, from group to group, charming and carefree as can be. I have a theory that, like smiling, which actually makes you feel happier, imagining yourself as outgoing will make you more outgoing. Capture this image right before you enter a room and keep bringing it up when you need a boost through out the event. Ideally though, you’ll get so caught up in playing out your more outgoing alter ego that you’ll eventually become her, making networking fly by in a dizzying color of new faces and snippets of pleasant conversation.
Another great tip: Before you go, set a goal, whether it’s to learn something new or to make two new industry contacts. Keeping in mind the benefits of a networking event makes it a whole lot more bearable.
Networking can be intimidating for a lot of people—it certainly terrified me for years. But with some preparation, practice, and a shift in your mindset, networking can be (dare I say?) fun. Now, go forth and build that network!
What are your tips of overcoming a fear or hatred of networking events?