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Lose The Awkwardness: 5 Ways To Network When You Don’t Know Anyone

June 21, 2021

Whether you are just beginning a job search, ready to launch a new business, or looking to grow your current professional network, you can’t let your shyness get in the way of your success. Find out why networking is so important, what to do to prep yourself before an event, and five ways to get out of your comfort zone, meet people, and become a networking pro. 

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Networking Tips For Introverts Who Struggle To Break The Ice 

Maybe you’re comfortable with virtual webinars, but you are getting nervous about the thought of having to attend in-person networking events again. If the thought of attending a networking event where you don’t know a single person makes your anxiety levels creep up, you’re not alone. 

Thousands of professionals across dozens of industries dread the idea of having to make introductions and carry a conversation with a complete stranger. 

Sure, you could ask your best friend or business partners to come along, but you may find yourself using their presence as a crutch to stay within your comfort zone. This makes it even harder to make new contacts, especially when you have limited time to manage a growing network. 

It’s easier to stay home and remain comfortable than subject yourself to the unknowns of attending a networking event solo. And while it’s easy to participate in a virtual networking event or network on social media because you are confident behind a screen, making real-life, personal connections is more important than ever. 

Whether you are just beginning a job search, ready to launch a new business, or looking to grow your current professional network, you can’t let your shyness get in the way of your success. 

Read on to find out why networking is so important, what to do to prep yourself before an event, and five ways to get out of your comfort zone, meet people, and become a networking pro. 

5 Ways To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone To Build Your Network

Once you are in the right frame of mind, you are ready to dive into any professional networking event. 

Arrive on time; showing up too early may give your anxiety time to creep in. Minimize distractions and make yourself approachable. This means ignore the urge to settle into a corner and scroll on your phone. 

Use these five techniques to quiet your nerves and be ready to fly solo at your next networking event. 

  1. Decide What You Wish To Gain From This Experience

As you prepare to attend a networking event, ask yourself what you are looking to gain and who you can meet to help you achieve those goals. Here are some reflection questions to consider. 

  • Do I Want To Meet An Industry Leader With Mentorship Potential? 
  • Am I Looking For A New Job Or Career Advice? 
  • Do I Want To Spread The Word About My New Project? 
  • Am I Looking For New Hires For My Company? 

Once you have decided on your purpose for attending this networking event, it’s time to do a little digging.

Many events have registration pages that show a list of people who will be attending. Scan the list and do some research using LinkedIn or other social media platforms. 

Remember, to be a successful networker, you not only have to build relationships but ensure those relationships are mutually beneficial.

This will help you identify potential valuable connections and provide a familiar face to seek out during the meet-up. 

  1. Prepare Relevant Topics And Introduce Yourself To One Person

Not much has changed since high school: it’s still intimidating to approach large or small groups of new people. If you play your cards right, you can learn to join an existing conversation or start one on your own. 

Before the event, prepare some conversation starters that are related to your industry and some general icebreakers. 

Once you arrive, start small by introducing yourself to one person. Chances are you won’t be the only shy attendee, so keep an eye out for people who look nervous or are sitting alone. 

This initial contact could be your gateway to more professional connections. They may know others at the event and introduce you or give you the courage to approach more attendees. 

Whoever you choose to introduce yourself to, use it as an opportunity to relieve tension and awkwardness with the conversation starters you prepared. 

  1. Ask Others About Themselves To Build Authentic Connections 

Even though you are at a professional networking event to build up your network, relationship networking is crucial to the process. 

Relationship networking involves putting personal relationships first to build trust with your professional contacts. Remember that first impressions count, so you don’t want to appear overly eager or only present to find stepping stones for your career path. 

So after you make introductions and begin the small talk, it’s easy for the conversation to go south before you figure out how this new contact can have mutual benefits. 

Before an awkward silence hits, ask some questions about the other person. Ask them to tell you more about a new project, their hobbies, or why they attended the event. 

This also gives the other person a chance to reciprocate and ask about you. If they don’t, then it most likely wasn’t going to lead to valuable connections anyway. 

  1. Exchange Contact Information Seamlessly For Follow Up

Naturally, you will want to exchange contact information with whomever you meet to follow up in the next day or so to further the professional relationship. 

Here are two common ways to exchange contact information and prevent awkward moments. 

Share Your Contact Info Using...

A. A Paper Business Card 

Pros

  • Traditional 
  • Familiar 
  • Expected 

Cons

  • Easily Lost
  • Only Shares Basic Information 
  • Limited Spare For Information
  • Unable To Store Digitally 
  • You Can Forget Them At Home
  • Expensive To Update

B. A Digital Business Card 

Pros

  • Cutting-Edge 
  • Easily Editable 
  • Fits More Information 
  • Share Important Links 
  • Fully Customizable 
  • Share Digitally 
  • Easily Stored
  • Never Forget Them At Home 

Cons

  • Unfamiliar 
  • May Have To Show Others How To Access 

While either type of business card is acceptable for networking, a digital business card shows your new contact that you are up to date on technology and care about your reputation. 

It also provides a seamless way to share your contact information without having to fumble in your bag or pocket for a paper business card. 

  1. Know When To Exit Gracefully 

It’s important to know that the goal of professional networking isn’t to meet as many people as possible. It’s about forging valuable connections that can benefit all parties involved. 

Even though you never want to rush a conversation, there are times where you may need to move on. Maybe you are talking to someone who just won’t stop talking about themselves or complaining about their job. 

Always be polite when ending a conversation. Use some of these transitions to end a conversation naturally. 

  • Have You Seen Anyone From [This Company]? I Have A Question For Them. 
  • Let Me Know How That Project Turns Out. I’d Love To Hear About It When It’s Done. 
  • Thanks For The Advice. I’m Going To Head Over To My Session A Bit Early To Prepare. 
  • Do You Remember What Time They Are Serving Refreshments? I’m Starving! 

These statements, or others like them, will signal to the other person that you are ready to move on. If all else fails, let them know you need to use the restroom, and you will catch up with them later. 

Leave The Awkwardness At The Door At Your Next Professional Networking Event 

Nerves and shyness may seem like a big obstacle when you choose to attend a networking event on your own. 

But with a little bit of preparation, you can find a way to re-frame your anxiety and shift your issue into a source of motivation. 

After each networking event, reflect on which preparation tactics helped you to feel calmer. Focus on the positive and delete any awkward moments from your thoughts. Don’t dwell on your mistakes- chances are there was a lot you did right during the event. 

Once you are ready, sign up for another networking event and fly solo again. The more you practice, the quicker you will become a professional networker. And no one will ever believe you struggled with being an introvert! 

FAQs

How can I start building my own personal network? 

Build your own personal network for career success by using social media, keeping an eye out for networking opportunities, and asking a mentor for networking advice. 

How often should I contact people from my network? 

If you are looking to build genuine connections, reach out to members of your professional network every quarter or 2-3 months. 

Can networking get you a job? 

Yes, if done right, networking can lead to a job interview or even referrals. 

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