We all know this: not all of us are born networkers. For those of us who are on the introverted and reserved side of personalities, the thought of “networking” is at best uncomfortable, and most frightening. We often look up to “the other people” who just seem so natural at connecting with others and wonder: How can we become that way?
But here’s something else we also know: discomfort and fear should never stop you from doing whatever it takes to reach your goal. In order to achieve professional success and pursue career passion, there are times you need to overcome discomfort and fear. And if now (or the near future) is the time we need to overcome the fear of networking, there are three simple pro-tips for you.
1. Set a specific goal
Often we are nervous about networking because we do not know what to expect. Fear of the unknowns triggers a lot of negative emotions and can stop you from performing at your best. But you can fix that by creating a “known” target for yourself: setting a specific (better yet, numeric) goal before going into a networking event.
Before going into a networking event, a conference, a talk, or a meet up, take a few minutes to write down what your goal is in number. Meeting 3 new people, asking 1 question to the speaker, reconnecting with 2 people you already know, etc. whatever that goal is, having a number attached to it gives you an anchor point and a sense of certainty. The best part of this strategy is that you will walk out of the event knowing EXACTLY what you did. And if you hit your number, you will feel accomplished.
You can start small. No need to overwhelm yourself. What matters is that you put down a goal that you can achieve and follow through. Your goal is your focus point. Once you do that, everything else including anxiety and self-doubt takes a back seat.
2. Follow up on LinkedIn
Surprisingly, most people do a bad job with following up after an event. You get tired after hours of talking and listening, you come back to normal life and things get in the way, etc. There are a lot of reasons why people do not follow up. This is precisely why you set yourself apart by doing so.
When you come back from a networking event, set aside an hour to follow up. The easiest way to do so is through LinkedIn. Send a quick note to someone you just met. Remind them how you two met and one thing you remember from the conversation. Tell them you hope to stay in touch and meet them again. Short and sweet! You just added another connection to your network.
You may ask what you would get from such a seemingly shallow approach. Research has shown that most of job opportunities come from weak links (citation). These LinkedIn connections are considered “weak link”, yet they are strong enough that they help you expand your network of people and, more importantly, information. (example of someone finding jobs through LinkedIn). So in your next job search, if you happen to need an introduction, you are a much warmer lead than a third-degree connection.
3. Show up
90% of life is showing up (quote). It is also true with networking. Even the best tips in the world will not help if you do not show up. Bring a friend. RSVP. Tell others that you are going to an event so you have your words holding you accountable. These are simple ways to help yourself show up.
The good news you, it is never as bad as it seems. By means of selection bias, the people who show up at a networking event are friendly and conversational. They are there to meet and talk to people. You will not have to convince people to talk to you. You just need to be there, say hi, and the conversation will go from there.
The best networkers are not good at networking by showing up once. They do it over and over again. They get better with intentional and purposeful practice of simple tips like above.
And so can you.