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Networking Tips For The Very Shy

For some, the very thought of networking is enough to get the fear hormones working. Imaginary beliefs of ďnetworking incompetenceĒ grip shy individuals so hard they refuse to even consider the possibility of trying. Well, I have some good news for self-proclaimed introverts: first, networking skills can be improved with practice; second, there is no such thing as networking incompetence.

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Networking is not always about wearing dresses (or tuxedos) and making toasts at upscale ballrooms. It is about making connections in everyday life; from gyms and coffee shops to conferences and trade shows, possibilities exist almost everywhere. Business wisdom would testify that a simple hello or smile could be a precursor to a career-making conversation.

If you are not convinced you can do it, let me ask you this: What would happen if you didnít network? Your answer would probably be along the following lines: ďFrom losing business opportunities to promotions, I have a lot to lose.Ē Well, good start. Now, let me ask you this: What is the worse that could happen to you if you started networking? Nothing. The initial phase might be a little unnerving but with practice and support, you will only get better. (Remember the first time you drove? How about now? Isnít it all about practice?)

If you have always had reservations about networking, the following tips could help.

Prepare yourself for small talk
If you find yourself giving excuses like ďI donít know what to say,Ē think again. To network effectively, you donít have to turn yourself into an overnight comedian or a party riot. A good sense of humor would help, but is no way a prerequisite. To make yourself comfortable you could prepare conversation starters and small talk topics. Read newspapers, watch sports, check the weather forecasts -- there is always so much to talk about. If you canít think of anything else, start by asking the contact how she or he got to where they are (professionally). Almost every one likes to feel important; if you show even a little interest -- being genuinely interested in helping others works wonders -- or respect for the opposite partyís career or profession, they will come up with plenty to speak about. And who knows, the other person might be just as nervous about networking as you.

Just go and network
Writers become better writers by actually writing; speakers, by speaking; actors, by acting Ö and shy networkers, by networking. There isnít a more effective antidote to shyness than just going out and networking. If you are really uncomfortable take a friend or colleague with you. Starting at places you are already comfortable with (e.g. a place of worship) may also be a good idea, giving you the necessary time to slowly graduate from known to unknown environments, such as professional associations, trade shows, etc.

Be patient with yourself, though. Donít expect yourself to turn into an overnight socialite. With time and practice you will achieve your goals.

Be who you are
You donít have to force yourself to change. Because we are all unique individuals, the world is such a beautiful and interesting place. If you were not who you are and if I was not who I am, the world would be so homogenous and boring. Diversity is very important, so just be who you are.

Network with well-networked people
Just knowing one well-networked individual could mean tapping into a potential network of hundreds of individuals. What a jumpstart.

Donít label people
You never know who knows whom. Donít assume the bartender doesnít know someone of interest to you or the hairdresser (whom you speak with anyways) is not a potential networking contact.

Use technology
Technology compliments traditional networking techniques, but does not in any way replace them. Technology has opened the gates of networking like never before. From online networking (using services such as linkedin.com) to networking groups online, the possibilities are [truly] infinite. I myself subscribe to several e-lists where I get an opportunity to interact with my peers on a regular basis. Technology allows me to interact with hundreds of individuals whom I could have never met in real life.

The advantage of technology is that even extremely shy individuals can establish connections without sweating.  (Caveat: since you are not seeing the person face-to-face exercise caution.)

Who says networking is only about conversations. I consider every individual who reads my articles as a potential networking contact. If you are good at something, write about it. From trade magazines and scholarly journals to blogs, there are plenty of opportunities to write.

You could also write to initiate a conversation. Example, if you read an interesting article, donít hesitate to write an appreciation letter (or e-mail) to the author. If you read about someoneís victory or loss, drop in a line even if you donít know the person. That first initiative could lead to a series of opportunities.

Get support
Support groups exist for virtually every human need. Research networking support groups within your area and visit them often. A good support system is worth its price in gold.

In conclusion, toss out all the self-restricting notions you have about networking. The only way to get better at something is by actually doing it. There may be hurdles in the beginning, but over a period of time the rewards will present themselves as opportunities and then you may find yourself saying, ďI wish I had started networking a long time ago.Ē Or ďThis is not as hard as I thought.Ē Trust me, it isnít.

Related Articles:
Grow Your Network: Strategies To Expand Your Contact List



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