Networking 101: How to network when you hate talking to people?
So maybe you don't hate talking to people, but if the idea of going to an event or meeting alone or even with other people and pitching yourself sounds awful, you aren't alone. If you consider yourself an introvert it can be extremely difficult to be heard in a room full of extroverts.
You don't need to be fake or become someone else to be better at talking to people. And (you're going to hate this), the sad truth is that the best way to get better at networking is to do it over and over again. I know, it sucks, but the more you do it the better you'll get at it and the less it will suck (I promise!).
Here are a few tricks to get you started:
1. Choose an event that doesn't matter.
One way to get started is to find an event or gathering that doesn't matter. Maybe it's not even a networking event, maybe it's something you found on MeetUp or a class on making macarons or a trivia night. Here's the thing: you've got to go alone. Maybe thinking about doing that is giving you the chills but hear me out: if you go with someone you know you'll rely on them without even meaning to. You may choose to only speak with them the entire time or let them take the lead on conversations. It's best to not even get into that habit and just go for it on your own. It'll be much harder to wean yourself off of a friend later on when it actually counts. The stakes are low because you'll most likely never see these people again. So, worst case scenario you come off awkward and weird and whatever, so what? Most people are too concerned with themselves to notice anyway! And if they do think that about you it'll be for maybe 1-2 minutes before they think about something else OR go back to thinking about themselves.
2. Start a conversation with a small group or couple.
It's hard to open a conversation with a group of people/friends that all know each other. It's much easier to break the ice with a couple or a small trio of people. I recommend going to a class you find on Groupon so that you're on even ground with other people that have never done whatever the class is before. That's a great opening line! "Have you guys ever done this before?" If they say no, you can say "Me too, I'm nervous!". If they say yes, you can say something like "Great, I'm copying off of you guys for the rest of class".
3. Ask questions and actually listen to the answers.
People like talking about themselves. They also love to be listened to. It rarely actually happens: most people are just waiting for their chance to speak in a conversation. So put the ball in their court! Ask tons of non-prying questions. "Did you find this class on _____ too? How long have you guys been dating? Oh, did you meet here in the city? Cool!" If they want to talk they'll keep the conversation going and it'll be much easier from there. Maybe other people will even join in. And if the whole thing goes horribly wrong, excuse yourself to the bathroom, splash some water in your face, and get back out there! You don't want to pry to much, if it's not happening it's not happening, and that's okay! Just enjoy whatever it is you're there to do.
4. Body language!
An easy way to seem more confident than you are is through your body language. Observe yourself in public interactions: do you fidget a lot? Bite your nails? Touch your hair? Look at the ground? Make a commitment to cut out these habits. Shoulders back, eye contact, smile. It'll make your job a lot easier.
5. "So, what do you do?"
For some reason in the US we're obsessed with this default question. I mean, who cares? But it's an easy conversation starter. Whenever someone asks this question, tell them you do the job you're working towards, not the job that pays the bills. So, if you're an actor but you bartend at night, tell them you're an actor! You never know who they are or what they do, plus telling someone your an actor is much more interesting than bartending.
When you feel ready, start attending the networking events that you've had your eye on (need to find some? Google or ask your colleagues if they know of any). Remember: liquid courage should be one or two drinks max, any more and you reach the danger zone. Don't rely on it! The last thing you want to be remembered for is how drunk you were.
I'll be posting more networking tips every other week, stay tuned!