A reader once wrote to me saying that the whole idea of networking for business and job searches was just too much for him. He is shy by nature, and an introvert. Facing a crowded room of strangers and having to start a conversation overwhelmed him. Research shows he's not alone.
Karl Stark and Bill Stewart recently wrote a post on Inc.com titled, "Networking for Introverts: 3 Tips for Success." They said that introverts make up between 25 and 49 percent of the population and that introverts often suffer in crowded social situations.
They added that introversion increases with higher IQs. Guess the guys on "The Big Bang Theory" would have a difficult time at a networking event!
Yet, Stark and Stewart noted that networking is still one of the most important business tools we have, and, they added, no matter how painful it may be, you "cannot outsource relationship-building." They said that there is hope for people who are painfully shy or who just feel overwhelmed in large, group settings and they gave many excellent tips, including:
Network one on one. You can avoid the big, crowded events by simply seeking out people you know, are referred to or connect with through Linkedin and other business-oriented social media. Then set up a coffee, lunch or dinner date to network.
Introverts tend to be good listeners. Use your listening skills to build valuable relationships. People love to be heard and acknowledged. You can learn a lot and find ways to interact for mutual benefit.
If you must attend a large event with numbers of people, here are some other strategies:
Contact the event organizer a few days early. Tell him or her that you are coming alone and that you don't find large groups easy to navigate. Is there a "Greeter" or "Host" who can help guide you to the type of people or company representatives with whom you can personally network? Most organizing groups have someone who can help introduce you around.
Don't come alone. Bring a wingman or wingwoman who knows people and can act as your guide.
Before the event, look up everything you can about it online. Plan a strategy. Who will be there? (Someone you should meet?) Who is sponsoring the event? (Networking one-on-one with reps at the sponsor tables can be effective.) What is on the program, and when? Should you use the first few minutes to look around and get acclimated, then focus on a specific, small group? Will there be networking after the main event? (Sometimes people are more relaxed and chatty one-on-one after the main event is over.)
Smile and be gracious. Remember that most people have been in your shoes. Everyone's shy at one time or another. A polite "hello" and self-introduction generally goes a long way to breaking the ice.
Marie Stempinski is the president and founder of Strategic Communication in St. Petersburg, Fla. She specializes in public relations and marketing, business trends and employee-motivation consulting. She can be reached at stratcomm(at)cs.com or through her website, howtomotivateemployees.org.