How an introvert learns to network

I’ve learned over the past several years how to work a room, but it can still be daunting to walk into a room full of unknown people and try to learn a little bit about them while sharing some of your own stories as well. There have definitely been times when I was unsure whether I should even be there, and even times when I considered just leaving rather than face a mass of people.

However, over time I have learned that many people face exactly the same predicament in any given situation – they didn’t know anyone when they walked in the door and were nervous about meeting new and interesting people. And yet, these same people often came away from these events with a number of new contacts, and sometimes good friends.

I resolved to overcome my fears of unknown people, challenged myself to determine what was causing my hesitation and to get past whatever it was.

To start the process, I immersed myself in networking type events. Whether they were alumni events, work related functions, or random groups of people from the hidden corners of the interwebs, I was there. At first, I found myself hugging the corners, not knowing how to break the awkward introduction barrier. Once that initial tension was broken I was usually ok, but I just wasn’t ready to go up to these people and say hello. Occasionally someone would start a conversation with me and it would progress from there, and often this led to introductions to other people, but I still wasn’t making the first contact. These were people who came up to me, just as I wanted to be able to do to others.

I expressed my reservations about going up to strangers to a friend, who gave me, in retrospect, a wonderful piece of advice, “Don’t network as if you live in New York.” I laughed at the time, but have realized that there are so many opportunities throughout every day to speak with people, but through the New York code of silence, none of us speak to each other. I decided I would see if I could start conversations with total strangers, and if I could do it with the people that I would likely never see again I could probably do it at a networking event.

Fortunately, New York has an abundant number of people perfectly willing to talk. They’re called tourists.

Through this Lose Weight Exercise I learned a lot about people’s families and vacations, but more importantly I showed myself that it could be easy to talk to someone and find something in common. Armed with this new knowledge, I went back to the events I had so much difficulty with previously. This time I had a new goal – to talk to a minimum number of people each evening.

While I didn’t always meet my goal, it was often because I found someone so interesting that I didn’t want to stop talking to them. Overall though, I did get to know many new people, made a number of new contacts, and eventually helped to connect several people that might otherwise not have found each other.

By pushing myself to achieve I became a better networker, but also learned a great deal about networking itself. That however, is a story for another time.

One Response to “How an introvert learns to network”

  1. Sherc says:

    I have same problems as you, and I think it’s made worse in Asian context where people are generally more reserved, and if start a conversation, people might think you strange.

    How I overcame my initial shyness nowadays is to just plunge right into it, do it a cold turkey way. The first initial hellos may lead to nowhere, but after a while, it would usually work itself out. I would meet people who from there would lead me to other contacts, and eventually some would even be great friends. But it’s the first 2 that are the hardest. I think also because I’m a woman, it’s less threatening when I speak up first. I think this is especially helpful when I speak up to another woman (where you can visibly see the expression of relief flashing across her face) or another guy. Also I learnt to back away when the conversation is leading nowhere.

    So anyway, network away! treat it as it’s another party at someone’s house? LOL

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