As a card-carrying introvert, few things can be as intimidating to me as the networking event. The endless introductions, the small-talk, the nagging curiosity of whether this stranger actually cares or just wants to sell me something — they can be incredibly awkward. I like to think I’ve conquered it at this point, that I’m able to confidently shoot the breeze or talk shop with someone I just met, but there’s always the possibility of sinking back into awkwardness if I’m not careful.
Luckily, I’ve developed several tricks over the years to ease my nerves and enter into any unfamiliar event with calm and confidence. The next time you’re faced with an awkward networking situation, try one of these tips:
The Buddy System
The simplest solution to an awkward event is also the most obvious: bring a friend! Even a casual acquaintance from your office can make a world of difference in a sea of unfamiliar faces and you might just find yourself making a new work friend. It’s also easier to engage as a group; if you stumble over your words or briefly draw a blank when discussing your business, you’ve got someone with you who has your back and can also speak to the subject.
There’s An App for That
As technology becomes faster, easier and more elegantly designed, a key focus for designers is to make our apps as unobtrusive as possible. Luckily for us introverts, however, they can still be used as a buffer to facilitate or simplify in-person interactions. For example, the popular contact swapping and management app, Bump, lets you swap information with a simple “bump” of your phones which is a great ice breaker.
Most networking events these days, especially technology-centric ones, will have a significant web presence leading up to the event. While primarily for registration, directions and hotel information, these sites can also be an excellent opportunity for a little pre-event networking online. The event might have a discussion forum or message board where you can discuss relevant topics with other attendees beforehand and swap virtual information through a professional networking site like LinkedIn, giving you a leg up before you even arrive.
The Business Card Escape
Sometimes, even after engaging successfully with a new contact, things can get stale quickly, leading to the dreaded, prolonged awkward silence where neither party wants to be the first to leave. Enter the “Business Card Escape.” Simply dig out one of your cards with a quick “Here, let me give you my card – nice meeting you!” and you’re free to move along, having handled things professionally and without feeling rude.
Engage Social Media
At one of the last events I attended, I engaged all of the previous tips: I had friends from work there, I had my business cards ready, I’d networked on the web site beforehand, I’d done it all! And yet, somehow I still managed to devolve into awkward silence (it didn’t help that my buddies had to leave for meetings halfway through the day). So what was my solution? I turned to social media! I took to Twitter, found the official event hashtag (a mandatory addition to events today) and started live-tweeting my thoughts on the speakers. Before long, I was engaging with a number of attendees doing the very same thing, building out my social network and having surprisingly interesting discussions, all from the Twitter app on my smartphone. We even eventually met up during one of the breaks, with the ice already broken and several interesting topics already on-hand to discuss further.
Do you have any tricks for rocking networking events? Leave them in the comments below or tweet me @writerwin!