6 Ways to Overcome Networking Nerves: An Introvert's Guide
I have a confession to make: I’m an introvert – an INFJ to be exact. No, I’m not shy (contrary to popular belief). It just means that get-togethers, like networking events, might provide me with some level of anxiety and eventually wear me out. And with the importance of networking when it comes to starting or furthering your career, this can be slightly problematic.
Interestingly enough, my first job after my undergraduate degree was with an organization known for their networking events. This led to me learning how to overcome my anxiety and making the most of those important opportunities. Now, I want to share a couple of tips I learned with my fellow introverts out there.
1. Channel your inner Boy Scout
We all know the saying, “always be prepared.” This is the perfect thing to keep in mind for networking, especially as an introvert.
- Research – Some people (extroverts) use networking to meet as many people as possible within a short amount of time. Introverts, on the other hand, benefit from situations where something is learned. When considering which event to attend, research the options to make sure you can learn in addition to “schmoozing.”
- Pre-register for the event – By pre-registering, you’re more likely to actually attend. It’s kind of hard to let your nerves get the best of you this way, especially if you’ve already paid for the event.
- Think ahead – If the thought of making small talk makes you cringe, prepare a list of questions you can ask someone you meet. They don’t need to be anything deep. A question as simple as, “what brings you here?” will be enough to start a conversation.
- Know before you go – You’ll be nervous enough on your way to the event. There’s no need to add the extra stress of getting lost. Google exactly where you’re going to reduce your stress levels.
2. Take a deep breath
I know when I feel anxious, breathing can go from normal (like I don’t even have to think about it :rim shot::) to being a struggle. If you feel anxious approaching a networking event, stop right where you are. Seriously, don’t take another step – unless you’re in the middle of the street; don’t stop there.
Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Take a couple of deep breaths and focus on the air filling and leaving your lungs. Remember: it’s highly unlikely you’re the only one who’s anxious about this situation. In fact, feel free to create a mantra if you need it. I’m not the only one, I’m not the only one, I’m not the only one.
This doesn’t mean you have to go in prepared to be best friends with everyone. Instead, by smiling and not crossing your arms (it makes you look closed off) you’ll look approachable and friendly. This will make it easier for you to approach others (or vice versa) to start a conversation. Ta-dah! Bonus points if you approach someone who looks as nervous as you feel first.
This is something introverts are naturally good at, and it goes a long way in networking. Ask an open-ended question (avoid “yes” and “no” answer questions if possible), and then listen to the answer. This will lead to a genuine conversation, which leads to the ultimate goal in networking: a genuine connection.
5. Stop while you’re ahead
One of the most awkward things that can happen is running out of things to say. Instead of standing there uncomfortably struggling to come up with other things to say, bow out of the conversation while you’re ahead. Be sure to let the other person know you appreciated getting to know them and ask if they have a business card. Please, whatever you do, don’t just walk away. You don’t want to be “that” person.
6. Follow up
As I mentioned earlier, the main point to networking is to make a genuine connection. If you succeed in doing this, make sure you follow up. Send an email, request to connect on LinkedIn, whatever. Just make sure you connect further somehow; otherwise, you wasted your time (and went through all of that anxiety) for no reason.
If you keep all these things in mind, you can go from viewing networking as a “necessary evil” to something you might actually enjoy. Even if you never fully enjoy it, at least you’ll have a tool in your arsenal to ensure your success as you transition from your online college degree to the working world.
About the author: Lindsey Leesmann, Communications Specialist at Grantham University, received her Bachelor of Science – Print Journalism from Missouri State University, Springfield. Prior to her current role, she served as a Student Advisor in the Multidisciplinary Studies and Masters Degree programs.