An Awkward Person’s Guide to Networking

Networking is a wonderful thing. It allows professionals to connect, learn, and ultimately help each other grow. But let’s be honest: Nobody “likes” to network. Alright, maybe there’s 5% of the population that completely loves going to events, introducing themselves to people they don’t know, and striking up conversation. And if you’re in that 5%, then you can just stop reading here.

To everyone else, I’m with you. It’s doesn’t come naturally to insert yourself into a group of strangers and develop connections on the spot. Especially in a world where our communication is almost 100% virtual, talking to a human face-to-face can be intimidating and overwhelming.

Luckily, there are a few things to think about when attempting to branch out into networking that may be helpful for the Average Joe:

  • They probably feel awkward too – Not many people arrive at an event ready to dive in head first. Conversations can seemed forced and awkward, especially when there’s no context around them yet. Initiating a small comment or question, completely unrelated to the event itself, can help break the ice for people. Something like: “Can I tell you how happy I am there’s pizza here.” is so small but hey, what’s an easier conversation piece than cheesy goodness?
  • Bring a friend – Yes, the whole point is to meet new people, but having a support system with you can help you feel comfortable in a new situation. Someone to help bounce responses off of and bring fresh conversations to the table is never a bad thing.
  • Offer and Reciprocate – It’s a common misconception that the goal of networking is to get something for yourself. While yes, that would be an incredible accomplishment to leave an event with a job lead or new client, you cannot approach it that way. Enter an event with the mindset of “What can I offer to someone else?” and be a resource for them. Reciprocity is the cornerstone of building relationships, especially through networking events.
  • Start small – Don’t begin your networking journey at a 3-day long convention with thousands of people. You quite possibly could explode from being overwhelmed. Start with a local MeetUp, something under 50 people, where you can focus on getting to know someone. Ideally, there’ll be a buffer presentation or guest speaker to balance out the conversation time with education. Get your feet wet first, then grow from there.
  • Set a goal for yourself – Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, set appropriate goals. Trying to find a new job? Speak with 3 leadership executives from companies that interest you. Looking to grow your overall network? Take home 5 business cards by the end of the night. Make your goals attainable but also intentional.
  • Follow Up – Relationships can’t flourish beyond the event if you don’t take action. And do not assume the other person will make the first move. Make sure you follow up with anyone you meet – whether it’s a simple Linkedin connection or friendly email to grab coffee and talk about that one thing, don’t let that hard earned connection fizzle away!

You will become more and more comfortable with networking as you continue to do it. Find a few events a month and put them on your calendar as a non-negotiable.  Use them to build your confidence and ultimately that confidence will positively translate into other aspects of your life!

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