A man walks into the library and quietly begins saying hello to everyone he passes. He walks up to the young librarian, flirts a little, then makes he way back to a small conference room. The room is filled with people of all ages, races, genders, and backgrounds. The man is new to this city and has never met anyone here; he hadn’t even been to this library yet. But when he waltzes into the conference room, he immediately walks up to a small group and introduces himself. Throughout the rest of the hour-long networking event, he talks to everyone. He asks questions, hands out business cards, and even manages to remember a few jokes. He flaps his ‘social butterfly’ wings and flies around the room, never looking down to where he could possibly crash and burn.
For social butterflies, networking comes easily. But others, like myself, tend to suck at it. Networking can be anxiety-provoking for many people. We walk into a room full of strangers, waiting for someone to pounce. Our knees buckle and our palms sweat because we know that someone will want to – ugh – talk. The worst situations are networking at a restaurant. I don’t think there’s anything worse about networking than when someone asks you about your business when THEY CAN SEE that you have just taken the biggest bite possible. The flip side is feeling awkward and uncomfortable, like being stared out from inside of a fish bowl, when you refuse to eat because you’re terrified of encountering Scenario A.
Those of us who can’t seem to find our wings typically end up feeling as though we’re just not meant to network (or socialize in large groups at all). I, however, feel very differently. I believe that we are simply what I call “social caterpillars.” I think we all have the capability to work through our social anxieties and learn to network in the best way that works for us.
One idea is to practice networking in less intimidating situations. Find an industry forum – whether it’s a Facebook group or industry website – and get in touch with people there. Working on the way that you can communicate with others when you’re online can be a great way to work on networking. You can even get feedback from others on how to improve your skills. Once you get better at this, slowly push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Practice with friends in a social setting and then move to actual networking events. Learning to network is a fantastic way to find other companies to work with, as well as new clients. Use the skills that you learn to spread your wings and make the most of it.