First, I’d like to say that I myself hate networking. The prospect of walking into a room and meeting a bunch of strangers to talk about yourself can be a very frightening and paralyzing experience for the shy person. One way to battle any fear is to acknowledge it, so let me say it again, I HATE NETWORKING! That felt good. Okay the next step is to decide whether you want to do something about it or just avoid the situation all together and be stuck in a stagnant job or zero growth for your business. For me, I did something about it. As a young graphic designer I knew I had to network to advance my career in graphic design—in this industry most firms are small so if you want to meet other creative types, attending the local design or ad club events was the way to do it.
After agonizing, I reluctantly joined our local group, AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts). My passion for learning more about design was so strong that it eventually trumped my fear of meeting strangers—it was a risk I had to take even though it made me nervous and sweaty just thinking about it. I rationalized it in this way, I don’t really have to talk to anybody and turn this into a networking affair, I can just go and listen to the event speaker, learn what they had to say, then just go home to my cat.
But once I showed up, my head didn’t explode and nobody laughed at me—in fact I was so inspired by the speaker that I had to stay and mingle with others who were also inspired.
After that, these meetings were contagious for me, I kept on going to all the events, getting a rush from learning new things, sharing ideas, and meeting new people. That was around 18 years ago and how did I do it you ask? I went from a painfully shy guy to eventually volunteering for AIGA, then becoming a board member, advancing to VP and eventually becoming the President.
If you ask any of the attendees I’ve have met over those eight years, I bet none of them had a clue that I was and still am a shy person at heart. Even some of the board members who are now my best friends didn’t have a clue. How can you overcome that? Here are some simple tips that I have learned that might help alleviate your fear.
1. Show up
Believe me this is more than half the battle. You have a fear of meeting strangers, so consider just walking through the door a victory for you. You have entered a room full of opportunities and possibilities. It’s a lot better than not showing up which gives you a 0% chance of anything happening.
2. Make your goals simple
Okay you’re in the room, you have met goal 1. Now meet one person–do one business card exchange. Keep your goals simple and build upon your successes. With each event your goals will be bigger and your confidence will grow.
3. Put on your networking hat
Let’s face it, you are shy, but you still have to have your game on, your networking hat is basically the attitude and human skills you bring to the event, so remember these simple tips and it will provide you with a good foundation for being an approachable and attractive living form, most of these you should have learned from your mother:
Be polite, be a good listener, speak clearly, be positive (always), have good posture, good hygiene, dress appropriately, and my mom’s all time favorite “have your business cards ready to give in an accessible pocket.”
Tips 4-10 to come next week!