Overcome Panic and Feel at Ease at Networking Events
How to connect with others and make them eager to know you and help you
“Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.” -Zig Ziglar
For introverts, few things are as scary as stepping into a networking event. You see a room full of people, who all seem to know each other, moving easily throughout the room, mixing and mingling at will. Then awareness returns to you, the outsider. Tension mounts as you begin to imagine what they might be thinking about you.
Are they judging my outfit?
Are they judging my shoes?
Are they wondering why I came by myself? Do they think I don’t have any friends? Are they wondering what’s wrong with me?
You imagine yourself standing in a corner, munching hors d’oeuvres, not because you’re hungry, but to make it look like you have something to do. You take out your phone and play with it, hoping to look busy and important. Inside, though, you’re imagining yourself having a lousy time at this event.
That’s never good, because what you create in your mind, you manifest in reality. But there’s a way out of this vortex of despair. I know, because I was that shy, nervous new guy in the corner. Within 18 months, though, not only had I mastered these events, but the organization behind them asked me to serve on their board of directors. If I can do it, anybody can.
The truth about introverts and networking
Introverts are actually great communicators. Their words are carefully chosen, their ideas clearly and thoughtfully conveyed. They simply need the right context in which to express themselves.
Imagine that you run into the best co-worker you ever had. He or she has been interviewing for their dream job, and would you believe that their prospective future boss is right there in the room? Would you be willing to talk to the boss for a few minutes and give your co-worker a recommendation?
Of course, you would! You’d have no problem at all initiating that conversation. You’d be bubbling over with praise, recounting stories to demonstrate what a valuable asset your former co-worker would be to the company.
Or, suppose that the owner of your absolute favorite restaurant of all time approached you. There’s a person in the room looking to book a reception there, and it would mean so much both financially and in terms of prestige. Would you mind sharing your experiences dining at the restaurant?
You wouldn’t mind at all, would you? It would be easy for you to share your love of the food, the atmosphere, your complete enjoyment of your culinary adventures there.
The key to both of the situations just described is agency. It’s incredibly easy to communicate when you are representing someone or something you truly believe in.
The trouble is, no matter how much introverts believe in themselves, we find it hard to be our own agents.
Set a goal of helping others get what they want
Talking to others about who you are, what you want, who you’d like to meet is a scary goal for an introvert to have at a networking event. So let’s not set that goal. It may in fact happen at some point in the evening, but you’re not going to go forth with that as your primary objective.
Instead, your goal is going to be to help one other person at the event move closer to what they want.
That’s it. Once you do that, you can call the evening a success and go home. Of course, if helping another person leaves you feeling engaged and energized, you always have the option of sticking around and meeting more people, learning about their goals, and helping them as well. But you don’t have to.
Now, there’s still one problem. To get to know the people at your event, you’re going to find yourself submerged in the world of small talk. “Nice weather this week, huh? So, what do you do?” It feels so forced and robotic, doesn’t it?
What if you had something to say to cut right through the small talk and establish an immediate connection?
Networking’s most powerful question
You didn’t sign up for the discomfort of talking to strangers just to torture yourself. You have a reason for being there. So do they.
You say to them,
“Tell me something, if you could meet the absolute perfect contact at an event like this, what would that be for you? Let’s see if I can help you find that person.”
Now you’ve established yourself as their ally, swimming with them in this fishbowl of mixing and mingling. You sincerely want to know all about what they do, so you can help them. You’re establishing the same kind of agency you would have if recommending your favorite co-worker or restaurant.
Maybe who they seek is obvious. For example, if you talk to a real estate agent, they want to meet someone who wants to sell or buy a home. Yet even then, you can drill down further. Do they find their greatest reward in helping a large family find a house with enough room to fit everyone? Or do they prefer to help singles find the perfect condo in a bustling urban environment?
Some people’s dream contacts will be less obvious. Suppose you meet a graphic designer. You probably have some idea what they do, but could you guess who their ideal client would be? Me neither, so you better ask!
There are also people who attend these events because they just moved to the area, and they’re looking to make contacts socially as well as professionally. If you feel comfortable, you could invite the person along on your next outing with friends to the movies, the game, dinner, or wherever. Or, you could help them meet other people who are also recent transplants.
Reciprocity in networking: why this strategy is so effective
“The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.” — Robert B. Cialdini, author of national bestseller Influence: The Power of Persuasion
Your offer to help the other person find their ideal client or contact invokes the law of reciprocity. When you go out of your way to help another, they will feel the obligation to repay you in kind. Now they are very likely to ask about you, what you do for a living, and who ideally you are looking to meet at such an event.
Now it’s your time to shine, all without asking anyone for anything.
Wallflower no more
An added bonus is that when you follow this strategy, you will develop a reputation as a connector, as someone who genuinely wants to help put others in touch with good situations and opportunities. As you become a regular at these events, you will find that you become highly sought out as someone the other attendees simply must know.
By invoking the principles of agency and reciprocity, you can take the fear out of networking and turn it to your advantage. Although you never asked for success, you will find that you draw success to you. Happy networking!