Five Tips for the Awkward Networker

Awkward networkerDo you feel awkward when you're at networking events? Are you less than thrilled to attend a networking event and would rather be home with a good book (or even housecleaning) than talk to people you don't even know? There are ways to make networking more comfortable - and more productive - even for shy, nervous, or reluctant networkers.

1. Use your discomfort to your advantage

If you're afraid you're not a good networker because you're not as talkative as some of your friends, don't be. As it turns out, you have an advantage over your more chatty fellow networkers - you're likely to be the better conversationalist!

I'm sure you've heard the saying that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. When it comes to networking, that's definitely true: Listening is a key skill, and the better you are at listening closely and paying attention to the person you're having a conversation with, the better you'll be able to respond and build rapport. And that's the key to creating connections.

Someone who is a motor mouth talking non-stop (often all about themselves) may miss important clues - and miss out on potential connections.  

Remember the goal is to be interested - not interesting!

2. Smile

The interesting thing about shy or quiet people is that they're often perceived as aloof, which is just about the opposite of the truth. There's an easy way to overcome that perception though: Learn to smile. Be friendly, and people will find you approachable and likeable, and they will be happy to connect with you.

As well, quite often the person you smile at may be just as uncomfortable as you are and will be grateful for your welcoming approach.

3. Take the Easy Way In

If you're at an event by yourself and feel too shy to approach people, position yourself in one of the following strategic places for an easy way in...  

    * Get into the buffet line or the beverage line - it's easy to get into conversations as you're waiting together in line.  
    * Stand near the door, the registration table, or the name tag table, and greet new arrivals. It's the old "act like a host" trick - and it works every time.  
    * Volunteer to help with raffles or name tags. It'll give you an excuse to talk to people, and that makes it much easier to follow through and be social. Plus you never know whom you'll meet.

 4. Take the lead

When you're alone at an event, look around for others who're also by themselves. Then walk over, smile, offer a handshake, and introduce yourself. They'll be glad you took the first step.

Come prepared with a few simple questions that get the conversation rolling and the relationship started. After the initial weather/sports/hot current events comments, you'll want to have a more meaningful conversation. Here are a few ideas to get you going after the traditional "what do you do?"  

    * How did you get started in your business/industry?
    * How long have you've been a member of this group/association/chamber?
    * What do you love most about what you do?
    * What was the strangest or funniest incident you've experienced in your business?
    * What significant changes have you seen take place in your profession/business recently?
    * Who is your perfect customer, in case I can refer you business?
    * How has the economy affected your business?
    * What have you found to be the most effective way to promote your business?
    * What other groups do you belong to?
    * Where else do you network?  

Just remember, it's a conversation, not an interrogation, so keep it relaxed and be genuinely interested.

5. Remember to circulate

As much as you delight in having found a person you enjoy talking to, don't stay with that person for the rest of the event. You'll do yourself and them a disservice. Exchange cards, agree to follow up, and move back into the crowd. Go back to the list of strategies above, pick one, and start up a conversation with another person.

As you can see, you don't have to be "Chatty Cathy" to be successful at networking. You can succeed even if you feel shy and a bit awkward. Of course, the better you are prepared, the better your results. And the more you practice, the easier and better you'll get.

For more networking tips, check out my upcoming free webinar -- "Why Networking Doesn't Work... and what you should do about it" -- and discover the 5 biggest networking mistakes people make that limit their success. Isn't it time your networking paid off?