No matter how badly you need a job or how hard you try, if you’re an introvert the quicker you accept the fact that networking is extremely draining and difficult for us the better off you’ll be. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean we can’t do it, it just means it will never be something that comes naturally.
Fortunately, like any other weakness, it’s only a weakness until you acknowledge it and do something about it.
The most important thing to note is that you only have so much social energy in a day (less than extraverts) so if you’re going to a networking event don’t spend the morning running errands or meeting up with friends, spend your time before you network alone so you don’t use up your social energy. It sounds like a video game (and that’s kind of how I think of it) but it’s true.
Once you arrive at the event but before you go in find a private mirror (in your car, using your cell phone in a bathroom stall, etc…) and smile to yourself genuinely and think about how great you are. It doesn’t matter if you believe it or not (but I hope you do), this is going to psych you up! If you think you’re awesome the chances are good that others will think you’re awesome too!
Once you get in, survey the room, look for a kindred spirit, someone who is maybe shy or nervous and talk to them, it will build up your self esteem and theirs. I’ve found that complementing people helps me talk to just about anyone. It’s a way to get them to open up and get the conversation started. Another added bonus is that it also makes the other person feel good. From there you can ask the other pertinent questions like “What do you do?” or “What brings you to the XYZ Networking Event tonight?” and move on from there, which is ultimately your goal.
I met one of my best friends in college at our school’s orientation, where she and I knew no one. She was wearing a really cool pair of Pumas so I complemented her on her shoes. From there we started talking about the fact that we were both going to be freshmen in a month, and how scary/exciting/etc it was and the conversation progressed from there.
This brings me to my second point. I remember when I complemented my friend on her shoes she looked relieved that someone was making an effort to start a conversation with her, and at that moment she wasn’t completely alone at the orientation anymore. She and I both finally knew someone. After all, isn’t being rejected or ignored ultimately every person’s worst fear in a new social setting?
By letting the conversation flow with strangers at a networking event you pretty much can’t lose. Think about it, best case scenario- you and the “stranger” have a lot in common so you’ve just made a new friend. Worst case scenario- even if you don’t really have anything in common with the “stranger” for a few brief shining moments you and that person are not alone at your awkward networking event which is also a win-win and gives you the confidence to strike up yet another conversation.
Once you get home maybe make a few notes or set a few reminders for yourself but be done for the day. Chances are good that you’re exhausted, accept that, watch some Netflix, eat some bad food and relax the way any good introvert would. Then be sure to follow up on those calls, emails, texts, etc… promptly tomorrow.