If the mere thought of an “elevator pitch” makes you want to run for the emergency exit, you’re not alone. Networking with total strangers can be daunting, especially if you consider yourself introverted or shy. Yet “introverts, it turns out, are the best networkers because they’re great listeners and really focus on the other person,” says Judy Robinett, author of How to Be a Power Connector: The 5+50+100 Rule. Still, even with that vote of confidence, it can be hard to know how to start. Here, a few rules on becoming a power networker — all without breaking a sweat.
DO: Practice your pitch
The more prepared you are, the less likely you are to find yourself wide-eyed and stammering, says Susan RoAne, professional speaker and author of How to Work a Room. The first thing to plan: your own self-introduction. RoAne recommends practicing a quick (less than 10 seconds) bio rather than an epic-length elevator pitch, which can easily turn interested smiles into yawns.
DON’T: Arrive late
There are few things more intimidating than penetrating a huge crowd of people already deep in conversation. Plan to be inside the venue no later than 15 minutes after the event starts. You’ll be able to nab attendees as they enter and start to mingle, making it much easier to strike up a conversation.
DO: Have a small-talk game plan
Make sure you have a clear goal going into the event, whether it’s tracking down that client you’ve never actually met in person or getting face time with an elusive boss. Once you’ve decided whom you want to talk to, come up with at least one or two conversation topics ahead of time. And if you’re desperate, remember: “If you’re under the same roof, you already have something in common.” In a pinch, the beautiful venue, tasty hors d’oeuvres and questionable cover band are all potential conversation starters.
DO: Bring a wingman (or wingwoman)
If weathering an industry breakfast or conference cocktail party solo is too much to bear, Robinett says there’s no shame in bringing a plus-one (as long as the invite allows). If a party pal isn’t an option, volunteer to help out at the event. Not only will it give you a specific purpose, but the organizer can be a useful networking contact.
DON’T: Rely on liquid courage
While it may be tempting to drown your anxiety in pinot grigio, think twice. “In business there is no such thing as free drinks,” says RoAne. If you lose your composure under the influence, “you will pay the price later.” Know your limit and stick to it.
DO: Follow up
Once you’ve made that all-important connection, always, always follow up, no matter how small the gesture, be it forwarding a link to that interesting article you discussed or sharing the phone number of your excellent mechanic. Growing these small connections is the best way to build long-term relationships that can pay big dividends later.
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