How to Network When You’re Nervous, Shy and Lacking Confidence

There is a lot of truth in the old saying ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know’ and when you’re looking to progress in your career or business, networking can be a very powerful way of doing so. It can open doors that you could never imagine and can introduce you to people who can support, promote and recommend you.
A 2009 study by Hans-Georg Wolff and Klaus Moser from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg showed that networking relates to career success. Their study indicates that those that network are more satisfied in their careers and suggests that networking can contribute to career growth over time. Networking can be considered an investment that pays off.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the executives who rank in the top 20% of their companies in both performance and well-being, have diverse but select networks .

Well that’s all well and good if you’re the confident outgoing type, but what if you are shy, lacking confidence and find it difficult to strike up conversations with people you do not know? Does that mean that you have to rank in the bottom 20%? No it doesn’t, just because you are shy and low in confidence, you too can reap the benefits of networking and the following 5 tips will show you how you can conquer those networking nerves.

Is it really that bad?
I had a client who was not getting any clients for her business. She was buying in mailing lists and sending out emails promoting her services to people that she did not know. The nature of her business meant that it was necessary to build rapport with her potential clients in order for them to buy her services. Sending emails to people she didn’t know did not allow for rapport to be built and for them to get to know like and trust her. Chances are they were probably deleting her emails, they were going in to junk mail folders or they were simply being ignored.

She had a fear of networking, believing that she would not have anything to say to people and would not be able to hold conversations.

As a quiet, shy, low confidence person, you are probably thinking that no one will talk to you, you won’t have anything of interest to talk about, people will find you boring or you will become tongue tied. Holding this belief could be making you feel anxious about networking and making you fear doing it and as a result, you don’t do it. But by not networking, you could be missing out on a whole lot of opportunities.

Rather than thinking that no one will talk to your or that people will find you boring etc, look at it in a more rational way.

Think of previous times where you have been somewhere, whether it was a party, the supermarket, the gym and you talked to people that you did not know. Did they find you boring? Did you have things to talk about? Career and business networking is not any different. In fact any situation where you meet people, talk to them and get to know them is networking.

Viewing networking in a rational way will help to change the way you think about it. This in turn will help you to feel less fearful and anxious about doing it, making it a more enjoyable experience.

Get there early
As a quiet, shy, person, there is nothing worse than arriving late to a networking event and finding that groups have already formed and people are heavily engaged in conversation. Feeling awkward about imposing yourself on a group, you stand their fiddling with your phone, pretending you are checking your messages (I know because I’ve done this too), or you flit around as if you’re busy socialising when really you are getting more and more anxious. The fact you’re not talking to anyone seems to have magnified in your mind, so much so that you imagine everyone is staring at you because you are on your own.

Arriving early at an event means that people have not had chance to form groups and are looking around to see who they can talk to.

Approach someone who is also on their own
If you see someone who is also standing on their own, go over and start talking to them. Chances are, like you, they too could be feeling a bit nervous. Start the conversation going by asking them their name and what it is that they do. This will help to put them at ease and will also help you to relax as well.

Have a few conversation starters ready such as asking them how they found out about the event, how they are finding the event, who else they know at the event etc.

Ask open questions
Ask open questions, questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Use questions that start with words such as what, where, why, who, how and when that will open up the conversation. As the person talks, pick up on what they say and ask further open questions.

People like to feel listened to so listen and show interest in what they say. This will also help to make you feel more at ease. When they start to ask you questions, because you have built up a rapport, it will be easier for you to respond.

Joining in a group conversation
In the event that people have already formed groups and look like they are deep in conversation, rather than feeling like a lemon, go up and approach a group. You may find it easier to approach a group of of more than 2 people as the conversation is likely to be more open. Do not push yourself right in to the group, stand next to the group and ask if they mind if you join in. They are not going to say no and in the event that they did, would you really want to talk to them anyway.

Once you have joined the group, listen to the flow of the conversation and respond accordingly at an appropriate opening. Introduce yourself and ask who the others are. Don’t just start talking about yourself over someone who is already speaking as that is rude.

The very thought of networking when you are shy, quiet or lacking confidence can be enough to stop you doing it. But by not networking, just think of all the opportunities you could be missing out on.

The more you network the easier it becomes and it can actually be a very enjoyable experience.

If you have overcome a fear of networking I would love to hear how you did this, or if you too experience networking nerves, please share your comments below and please do share this post with others.

Originally published by Carol Stewart, from Abounding Solutions