Like most introverts, being around a large group of people is mentally, and sometimes physically draining for me. Since I work in an industry where the gift of gab can make your life a whole lot easier, I’m at a natural disadvantage. For public relations, and most industries, knowing how to network and build confidence in a crowd is an essential part of building valuable contacts, relationships and marketing yourself and your business.
Fellow introverts, hear me now. You can overcome your networking fears, it just takes a little mental coaching and pre-planning.
- Come Prepared. The best way to make an event count is to go in with expectations. If possible, glance over the event’s guest list before the event to get an idea of whom you would like to meet. Also, set a goal of a minimum number of people you want to meet. This will keep you motivated to keep moving and working the room. Also, take a few minutes to get familiar with the event’s hosts, honored guests and topics, and be knowledgeable on the top three local news and sports stories—even the weather. These can become useful conversation points.
- Be Mindful of Body Language. We’ve all been taught inner-beauty is what really counts, but when networking it’s your external body language that will guide the first impression. Smile, relax and be enthusiastic. A positive attitude makes you approachable and memorable. Avoid using your phone and always keep one hand free for handshakes. When in conversation, keep your attention focused on the speaker, don’t scan the room for other people.
- Proactively Mingle. For introverts, this is a toughie. Remember those goals? It’s time to put them in action and work that room! Seek out opportunities to meet new people and reconnect with old contacts. If you know of a mutual connection, ask for an introduction. Avoid spending too much time with people you already know. However, it is fine to introduce a fellow acquaintance to others in the room, and vise versa. Try to spend 4 to 7 minutes in a conversation and keep moving throughout the evening. Do not talk with the same person during the entire event.
- Strike-up the Conversation. Another doozy. Sharing an awkward pause is anything but pleasant—what do you say to someone you’ve never met? Let’s take this one step-by-step:
1.) Gracefully enter the conversation.
“Hi. My name is ________. I don’t believe we’ve met.”
2.) Have an “elevator pitch” prepared to explain who you are and what you do. This should be about 10 to 20 seconds long.
3.) Initiate small talk by asking open-ended questions about the other person. It helps to have a few questions already prepared.
“What brings you here tonight?”
“What’s keeping you busy when you’re not working?”
“How did you get into your field?”
4.) Gracefully make your exit. You don’t want to monopolize your time. Remember, you have goals.
“________, it was a pleasure speaking with you. If you don’t mind, I see someone I need to say hello to.”
- Build Relationships. You should always network with a purpose. Put forth a genuine effort to get to know other people and remember their names. Repeat a name when you hear it—both in your head and out loud—as soon as possible after you’ve been introduced. Then occasionally use the person’s name in your conversation, which will make your new acquaintance feel valued. Offer a business card if you feel you’ve made a real connection, and always follow-up. Introduce him or her to one of your contacts or send an article about something you talked about.
If you ever find me mingling around Nashville, don’t be shy. Use these tips and come say hello.