The Essential Guide to Networking for Awkward People

This post is written by featured guest Arielle Quan.

 Last month, I fist-bumped a colleague’s drink instead of shaking their hand.

Last week, I introduced myself twice to the same presenter.

Yesterday, I prioritized getting a sandwich over making connections.

Networking can be a challenging for anyone, but especially for people who feel a little socially awkward. In fact, feeling off-kilter in social situations is more common than you would think. It’s easy to be uncomfortable at professional events, whether you’re the Party Pro or Lunch
Table Lurker.


I’m often complimented on my conversational skills (surprising) and charisma (shocking), but I know I feel awkward when I’m outside my comfort zone. I have dozens of stories of moments where I’ve said the wrong thing, shook someone’s hand too many times, or glanced at my phone in the corner, and
I know I’m not alone.

Networking is one of the most difficult social situations that we put ourselves in as professionals. It doesn’t matter if you’re an extrovert or an introvert. When you’re surrounded by strangers in an unfamiliar place while trying to impress everyone you meet, you’re bound to feel some pressure.

But networking is a crucial part of succeeding in business. It helps you get jobs, introduces you to key people, teaches you new things, and gets your name out there. Simply put, if you don’t network, you don’t meet the people you need to get ahead.


In the past four years of being a freelance writer and editor, I’ve gotten almost all of my projects through networking, and I’ve helped many of my colleagues find clients by connecting them with the right people, as well.

I know attending an industry conference or business brunch can sound like torture, but mixing and mingling doesn’t have to a painful experience. If I can make the occasional socially inappropriate fist-bump work for me, then you can definitely make your brand of awkward work for you.

Keep reading to get the essential guide on networking for awkward people.

Why Should I Bother Networking?

It’s no secret that connecting with people can help your business. You can find the benefits of networking in every career development book and across the internet. Everyone, from students to your mentors, seem to be connecting with people all the time.

But is it really worth the discomfort of introducing yourself to strangers, making small talk, and exchanging business cards dozens of times in a row for hours on end?

Absolutely!

As unpleasant as it may seem sometimes, networking really does work. I have four years of freelancing to prove it. As a matter of fact, no matter who you ask, they’ll probably agree that it’s vital to reaching your goals.

Whether you like it or not, and however awkward you may be, making connections is important. It’s best to just grin, hunker down and learn to love – or at least tolerate – networking for your business. 

What Should I Talk About?

Knowing what makes good professional chit-chat is one of the hardest parts of networking. For someone who feels a little awkward at times, it isn’t always easy to say the right thing in any circumstance, let alone to a stranger when a potential business deal depends on you performing well.

It’s impossible to give a definitive answer about what to say when you’re networking, because every person and conversation is different. In some cases, it may be completely fitting to passionately go on and on about your hobbies. And at other times, it’s best to leave your antique coin collection
out of it.


A good rule of thumb is to keep the subject on the person you’re speaking with. People are usually fine with discussing themselves and their profession. Letting the person you’re
speaking with carry the conversation is often the best bet for a low-pressure
chat.

 

It’s also important to talk a little about yourself when you’re networking. You want to share how you can help the person you’re speaking with using your expertise, services or products, or maybe you just want to make a good impression.

 

No matter what you want to accomplish from connecting, it’s impossible do anything if you don’t talk about yourself, at least a little. However, it can be challenging to share yourself with others if you feel
uncomfortable.

But I Hate Talking About Myself!

A common obstacle in networking is learning to talk about yourself with grace in a professional situation. You may find yourself questioning whether you look like a braggart, if you’re boasting, or if you’re being obnoxious.

But chances are that the person you’re speaking to wants to hear about you and what you can do for them. That’s why they’re trying to connect with you.  Just remember that sharing who you are actually helps whomever you’re speaking with in their networking efforts.

If you’re in doubt, rely on a 40/60 ratio, where you share yourself 40 percent of the time, and let them speak about themselves for 60 percent of the time. When you follow that ratio, you’ll both leave the
conversation feeling satisfied.

Don’t be shy. You’re actually doing them a favour by talking about yourself!

3 Fail-Safe Networking Tips

When you’re networking, having a few tricks in your back pocket can support you in confidently connecting with other professionals. These three fail-safe tips have come through for me throughout my career, and are sure to help you in your networking adventures, too.

1.  Be Prepared

It’s okay that networking may be challenging. It’s hard for many people, but it’s a necessary part of doing business. All you can do is prepare yourself for it.


Everyone has a different way to manage stress. If it makes you feel better, you can write up lists of what you want to accomplish at the event and who you want to speak to. Or you can spend a few minutes meditating or getting a sweaty workout in before the event.

 

In addition to relieving stress, you can also alleviate pressure by getting ready for the event ahead of time. Make sure you have the following ready before you walk into the event:

  • Your business cards
  • Reliable pen
  • Mints
  •    A friendly, but not overly-friendly (!), smile

2. It’s Okay to Do the Wrong Thing

When you’re networking, you may make mistakes. Maybe you laugh at the wrong time, or you forget to introduce yourself. You might even call someone by the wrong name. To be honest, anything could go wrong.

But it’s okay. Bad things happen. The world won’t end.


The worst thing you can do when you’re networking is freak out about a mistake, and then clam up or get too nervous to continue. The reality is that you’ll probably meet a dozen people at an event. It’s fine if one or two people think you’re odd.

 

Don’t beat yourself up about your mistakes. Just shake it off, try to recover as smoothly as possible, or excuse yourself to get a drink and start up a conversation elsewhere.

Remember, it’s okay to mess up!

3. Use Your Call to Action

It’s useful to keep a call to action in mind when you’re making conversation with a stranger. It doesn’t sound nice, but there’s nothing wrong with networking for a reason.

 

Everyone is connecting with other people to get ahead. The person you’re speaking with is probably thinking the exact same thing as you. So when you’re discussing your business with another person, keep these questions in mind:

  •   Do you want this person to call you about opportunities to work together?
  • Do you want to meet with their mentor or someone that they know?
  •  Do you think your skills could benefit their business in any way?

Having an end goal in mind when you’re chatting can be really helpful in keeping the conversation going, and a useful tool when you’re trying to exit a conversation that’s finished.

If All Else Fails…

Relax. You’ve gotten this far by being your charming, slightly

awkward self. If all else fails, smile, listen carefully, and have enough business
cards. You’ll be fine!

A big thanks to Arielle Quan for this fabulous contribution!  For more funny (and informative!) posts, you’ve gotta check out her website here.

Arielle Quan is a freelance writer and editor who nerds out on entrepreneurs, content marketing, and the freelancing economy. Her work has been featured across the internet and on the Daily Hive, Western Canada’s largest digital-only publication. 
When she’s not typing away, Arielle spends her time freediving, foraging, canning, and doing other homesteading hobbies in Vancouver and on the Sunshine Coast.  
You can find her at www.ariellequan.ca or on Twitter at @arielle_quan.

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