If you work in media, sales or really any modern industry for that matter, there'll come a time when you'll have to network. And if that thought fills you with anything other than pure dread, you're lying. Networking is hard. It's awkward, it's draining and for the many introverts among us, it can be a real issue. When you're shy or reserved, networking can feel like you're competing in a personality arena, all clashing to get the attention of each other, leaving your slightly quieter voice behind. But there are ways to get past that, and network like a pro without sacrificing who you are. These are some tried-and-tested pearls of wisdom that will help you to become the relationship-builder of your dreams, while still repping shy girls everywhere.
Recognise the Strengths in your Shyness
Being shy can feel like such a weakness, especially if you're in an industry that requires you to stand out. But standing out does not necessarily mean being loud and brash. As someone who is shy and a little introverted, you have strengths and advantages over your peers that you might never have realised. For example, shy people are often very good observers. Looking at social dynamics and how other people behave and react can give you the opportunity to avoid the faux pas and awkward comments that your other, less observant peers fall victim to. Also, giving yourself time to collect your thoughts instead of instantly blurting out a comment to avoid seeming quiet means that your answers and opinions will be far more collected and interesting. You also have the power of being a great listener. People will come to you with things that they need to vent about, so if there's a problem that you think you could solve, put your name out there when they ask. There are a lot of benefits to being the reserved type!
Ditch the Cold Call
Sometimes, the people you really want to get to know aren't available at events, or would make you too tongue-tied to approach. A lot of senior people in the industry will tell you that phone always beats email but honestly, a cold email when you want to reach out with someone just to network beats calling every time. Think about it; you're in the middle of something at work and an unknown number calls your phone just to 'reach out' and say hi. You're both stuck in an awkward back and forth. Bypass all of that and go for the inbox with a well-crafted cold email that you can use for many different situations. Stick with a simple formula; introduce yourself and what you do, mention why you admire your networkee's work (compliments go a long way), and how your work ties into theirs. Say you'd love to connect with them since your interests are so similar and boom. Send. You've laid out who you are succinctly and your potential new work-friend won't feel put on the spot. Take some time to perfect the art and you'll thank yourself later.
Take the Plunge
While cold emailing is great, you can't rely on it for everything. Going to networking events and putting yourself out there is never going to be easy at first. You'll dread it, you'll think up excuses not to go, you'll spend time at each one wanting to melt into the walls. But it's not important how you start networking - what's important is that you just start. I can categorically say that your first networking event will be cringingly awkward. Sorry. But think of the satisfaction that you'll have knowing that you finally faced your fear. And it can only go up from there. The events will get increasingly easier and you'll find your flow of how to converse with people and not feel like a complete idiot. Take comfort in the fact that many are in the same boat as you; cripplingly nervous of saying the wrong thing. And those that aren't, well, they're probably sociopaths that you wouldn't want to chat to anyway.
Do the Buddy System
At the beginning, it might be a bit much for you to head to a networking event solo. Grab a work mate or even a roommate and drag them along to an event you'd love to go to. Having someone there who knows how great you are will give you confidence and by having someone to chat to, you'll be saved from standing awkwardly on your own. Just make sure you're not glued to them all night. Encourage each other to start other conversations and offer mutual support so that you can both network effectively.
Make the First Move
A mistake that we introverts often make when trying to network is waiting in the wings for a kind soul to approach us. Unfortunately, as we all know, that rarely ever happens. Approaching someone and introducing yourself (however terrifying) is a much better method, because it gives you more control over the situation and gives you a chance to steer the conversation in a way that feels comfortable. A great, simple, opening line is: "hey, I'm (your name here). Do you come to many of these events? It's a bit nerve-racking!" Being honest about how you're feeling and owning your nervousness will resonate with others and spark a genuine conversation. Plus, it gives you the opportunity to approach that lonely looking girl in the corner and strike up a chat. Be the person you needed at the beginning of your career!
Mates not Rates
Try to remember that networking isn't a ruthless, business-focused activity. At its core, it's about meeting new people and building a good relationship with someone. Don't go into a networking situation with a goal of closing a deal or finding out someone's business strategy. One, because the idea of the stakes being that high will make you more nervous. And two, fellow attendees will smell the insincerity of the conversation a mile off once it starts. There's always a little room for schmoozing - just be real about it. Talk to people that you're genuinely interested in and of course, let them know if they've inspired you in some way, but only if that's true. Just go with the goal of meeting some like-minded folks and hopefully making some good connections. Save the hard business talk for the office and enjoy getting to know someone new.