Networking is crucial in business. But what happens when you’re shy or feel overwhelmed at big events with new people? Stephanie Cox shares some valuable advice for networking when you’re naturally more introverted.
I understand completely if you feel anxious about networking events. Rest assured: everyone feels that way sometimes. The below are a few tips from my own personal tool belt (I’m sure others will have different ideas!) and they’ve helped me throughout my career – from an anxiety-ridden graduate with zero experience and an inferiority complex, to a Society of Young Publishers committee Chair who edits books for a living (and still has an inferiority complex)!
1) Be nosy online and find out who’s going to be at the event
There isn’t a publishing event worth its salt that is not advertised, announced, discussed, and enthused about online before it happens. Welcome to the digital age, my introverted friend! Where the super-confident and very shy alike can come together to discuss the hot topics in the industry, or the latest book causing quite a stir. So, if you find a guest list, great. Print it out, and research the attendees. That will make you feel more prepared. If there isn’t one, you can bet there’s probably a hashtag or Twitter conversation going on somewhere where attendees will be gushing about the event or meet-up. It always put me at ease to know who to expect at a networking event.
2) Start chatting to people online first
Once you’ve seen who’s attending, why not strike up a conversation with some of them online first?
The publishing world is a huuuuge fan of social media, especially Twitter. And we’re all great friends on there. Really. I have met and chatted with some of the biggest names in the business (including Laura Summers, the founder of Bookmachine; the amazing Samantha Missingham, the fabulous Suzanne Collier, and publishing legends Zara Markland, Seonaid McLeod and Karen Sullivan) before eventually getting to meet them in real life at networking events.
Twitter, Facebook and Bookmachine are all tools that you really should be using – not only so that you can recognise names and faces, but so you can start chatting to them online before an event and break the ice. Let them know that you’ll be at the same event, and that you’ll pop over to say hi. That way, you’ll feel a million times more comfortable when you go to introduce yourself, and you will have an existing conversation that you can elaborate on if your mind goes blank.
3) Remember that you’re not the only one who feels nervous or shy
If the person you want to network with seems confident (everyone gets nervous, remember) or clearly networks with a lot of people, then don’t worry. They will do this a lot, and so will be used to having nervous people approaching them to chat. They’ll know what to do; they’re not going to just stand there while there’s an awkward silence. No one bites. Publishing is an incredibly friendly and supportive industry. Everyone was once where you are: nervous at gatherings. Hell, a lot of them probably still are. They want you to feel at ease, so that they can feel at ease too.
A good conversation starter, if the networking event involves a Q&A or a presentation, is to ask them their opinion on what has been said, or if they know the speaker. That should get the ball rolling if you freeze or panic and can’t think of anything to say.
4) A fool-proof tactic (almost like with dating – not that I’m an expert!): ask the other person about themselves and their work
And be genuinely interested. Fake flattery is easy to notice; genuine interest drives enthusiastic conversation.
In a situation where you’re meeting someone for the first time, it feels good to talk about something you know. So the person you’re talking to will be happy to chat about themselves for a couple of minutes. It’s familiar, comfortable territory and it helps you get to know each other. They, in turn, will ask you about yourself and your job, or your aspirations. The conversation will go from there.
5) Seek out the other person in the room who looks as shy and nervous as you do
Perhaps they’re standing in the middle of the room, alone. Perhaps they’re clearly just fiddling on their phone to look busy and less awkward. Perhaps they’re looking around the room, and seem a bit daunted. Approach them! They will be very relieved! Admit that you’re a bit nervous too. There’s nothing more anxiety-relieving than knowing someone else understands how you feel. It can even be a good ice breaker!
6) Have a business/contact card at the ready
Don’t feel all that confident? Get flustered easily? Will you get sweaty or go red in the face if you try, with all the grace of a newborn giraffe, to juggle your bag, your coat, your glass of wine and your phone in order to grab a pen and piece of paper? Yep, you’re exactly like me then.
Not a problem. Get some business/contact cards at the ready and whip one out when the conversation naturally calls for it. (Don’t shove it in people’s faces unannounced.) If you’re not weighed down with bags and you get the chance, write a little note on it about what you were discussing with the other person, so that it jogs their memory later on (though this is not essential). Voila! You immediately look more professional and have a little bit more style than you normally would.
Stephanie Cox is Assistant Copy Editor at the mental health book publisher Trigger Press. Originally from Hull and now working in Newark, she is also the committee Chair for the Society of Young Publishers North branch.