Networking

by Heather White

Techniques for shy or quiet types

Shyness, or being a quiet type, is a big obstacle that blocks many people when it comes to networking. The main reason for this is that there is a myth that you have to be gregarious to network, yet nothing could be further from the truth.

We have succeeded in creating a networking style and approach that is unique to the individual and their preferences; we totally believe in this, which is why I want you to take this approach as well.

You could learn all the techniques in the world that are designed to help someone become brilliant at networking. However, if you are unwilling to network, guess what – you won’t sustain this activity. So the most important thing here is for you to become willing to try out different approaches and overcome your shyness about networking.

Exercise

Let’s get it clear that shyness does not mean a lack of confidence or low self esteem. They sometimes go together, but not always. To help you overcome shyness, however, it is always a great idea to go armed with what makes you feel good. So here’s a quick exercise – write down the following:

  • Three things you are really good at or which you feel confident about handling
  • Three things you like about yourself – talents, if you like.

Next time you feel a little strained at a networking event, just remember these six things about yourself that are authentic and real. No one can take your achievements away from you!

Approaches to networking

You also need to know that networking comes in many formats, including

  • Emails
  • Telephone
  • Virtual forums
  • Attending events
  • Going to sporting events
  • Doing one-to-ones.

So please don’t get caught up in the idea that the only way to network is to attend events. It is not. You might, for example, start off with one-to-one informal meetings rather than going to events.

Conversations are easy if you practice with as many people as possible when it is not important. Start with people who work in the same company as you, practising on people you don’t know. Do so whenever you are queuing up at the coffee machine or water cooler, at the canteen, at meetings and so on – any situation where you can strike up a conversation, knowing that it will only last for 60 seconds, after which you can walk away.

To make things easier, create a list of questions that work on most people. What you need are open questions, curiosity questions, fun questions. Memorise about six good questions, so that when it gets difficult you can draw on your favourites – ones that you know work. You might also take a look at the topic on Questioning skills and the next page of this topic on The art of creating a stimulating conversation.

Tips for events

However, from time to time you will have to attend an event, whether this is an internal affair or an external event. Listed below are techniques and approaches you might want to try if you are shy or just the quiet type. If you are already doing most of these, congratulations – you are doing the right thing and perhaps all you need is to be a little more disciplined.

  1. For the next three events, go with a colleague of a similar level to you. Try not to go with your boss if you can help it, because he/she will tend to dominate conversations, leaving you feeling even worse than if you were on your own. Whoever you go with, make it your policy to stay with them for 20 minutes or so and then, once you have gathered a bit of confidence, start moving around the room on your own.
  2. Always join groups of people you think look friendly and interesting. Stay away from people who you think look intimidating, as trying to make yourself join them will only put you off more.
  3. Research and read as much as you can about the people who are going to the same event as you and include researching the organiser as well. Also make sure you are up to date with general stuff, because most people like talking about more informal and social things. Not everyone wants to talk about work.
  4. Arrange to meet a contact there, someone you like and get on well with – the person could be a supplier, a client or really just about anyone.
  5. Set yourself a time limit each time you go to an event. Stay for, say, 30 minutes the first time, and then gradually work up to 90 minutes. If there is a speaker, arrive five minutes before the speaker is due on, gradually arriving earlier and earlier at succeeding events until you get used to mixing with strangers.
  6. Be the host, even if you are not the host. Grab a bottle of wine and fill up people’s glasses. Alternatively, hover around the food area, as people are often relaxed here.
  7. Read How do you work a room professionally?, as it is very detailed, listing plenty of ideas you could try out.
  8. Be patient and never give up – accept that it takes time to develop a purposeful strategy for managing your shyness. Keep focused on what is important and not on what scares you. Try and try again until you find a way that fits your style, approach and personality.
  9. When you first arrive, get yourself psyched up by focusing on the outcome, which is your reason for being there; remember that you only have to stay for 60-90 minutes and keep things enjoyable for you.
  10. No one is looking at you, I promise. With shyness there often comes a heightened sense of vulnerability and in a room full of strangers this is quite a challenge. Just remember most people are feeling quite nervous at events and everyone is worried they will end up on their own, hence this sense of being stared at. If left on your own, head for the bar and food areas. Look out for others standing on their own or simply look around to find someone you think looks friendly, and then go and join them.
  11. Set yourself little goals and only speak to two to three people each time you go out. Once you have done this, go home. We need to build you up slowly and with positive experiences.
  12. Initially, attend only those events where the topic is of interest to you. This will make it a lot easier to relate to strangers because you will have something in common – the topic. You may want to set yourself a task as well. At each event that is speaker led, make sure you ask a question during the Q&A time. Start off by going up to the speaker privately first and then work up to asking in front of everyone. The aim is to build your confidence until you can overcome you shyness when needed.
Key point

Brave it out, as at the end of the day your career will depend on how well you are networked. Practice is the only real cure for being shy at networking.