Networking can be tough when you’re shy. Building new business relationships can be hard when just the idea of attending a professional event to network fills you with dread. You’re not alone – it’s common for people to spend most of their time at events with those that they already know precisely because they are nervous about making new friends.
But this prevents you from taking advantage of the full benefits of networking. You want to consistently add new people to your network – because they have new information, new ideas, new contacts, etc. You don’t have to be the life of the party and meet everyone to be successful, but you can’t be a wallflower. If you’re shy, here are three ways to move past your discomfort and improve your networking.
1. Focus on 1-1 conversations. Most people I’ve met who are shy are great at conversations with one person, they just freeze up when they are in front of a group. If that’s you, don’t network in front of a group! Don’t worry about becoming the center of attention. Focus on speaking with people one on one.
Even when (and especially when) you are at large events, concentrate on conversations with individuals. If there is a good connection, ask to follow up with a cup of coffee or a business lunch. As it is, it’s much more powerful to build these personal, individual connections.
2. Learn 3 great questions. If you are uncomfortable talking with new people, get the attention off of you and onto your conversation partner. Do this through questions. And not questions that have a one word answer, but open-ended questions that require a longer, more involved, response. To ensure that you don’t freeze up on the spot, have your favorite “go-to” questions that you ask to get a conversation started. That way you’ll never panic because you can’t think of something to talk about.
Some ideas: What’s the biggest project you’re working on at your job right now? What’s the biggest challenge you’re running into? What’s your favorite part of your work? How did you get into your field? Who are people that you are looking to meet in your networking right now?
3. Follow up online (but don’t get trapped). Email and social media are a godsend to shy people – you can communicate without leaving your desk! Leverage these tools to build relationships from a comfortable environment. Use email (especially newsletter platforms) to send out information to your contacts. Connect with people on sites like LinkedIn and Twitter to stay in touch with your contacts and share information.
You can find out more about them and find ways to help them without ever picking up the phone.This makes your real-world interactions easier when they happen – and remember, you do want to take these conversations off-line eventually. Online conversation should enhance your real-world networking, not replace it.
So don’t let your shyness keep you from building a robust professional network. Instead, use these tools to leverage the areas that you are comfortable with to build meaningful business relationships.