Clammy hands, shallow breathing, furrowed brows—this is often how I found myself at the mandatory networking events for my co-op program as an undergraduate student. As a self-proclaimed introvert, networking was literally the worst.
The practice can often feel less like creating relationships and more like a stiff business transaction. Thinking about networking as less of a formal event and more like meeting cool people who share your interests can lower the stakes. You can reframe the situation as something to look forward to.
Even with the stakes lowered, networking can still be intimidating. Here are 5 quick tips to help you fellow introverted SLNers calm those nerves!
1. Write up your answers and rehearse them
Do you feel more confident going into an exam when you’ve done the practice questions or when you’ve just skimmed your notes? The answer is obvious.
Coming in prepared will significantly improve confidence, no matter what situation you’re heading into. There are a number of networking questions that you can find online to prepare. The most important content to prepare if nothing else is the elevator pitch. This is typically a 30 to 45 second summary of your role, experience, and qualifications. Sounds like a lot, right?
Focus in on what you’re good at and how you want to represent yourself. The elevator pitch is first and foremost an introduction. There’s the obvious things to mention like your program of study and your work experience, but spend some time on what makes you unique. Is there a cool project you’re working on that’s relevant to your professional field? Are there any extracurricular activities that set you apart?
Practice your introduction out loud while standing to simulate the experience and ensure you make a great first impression.
2. Prepare a game plan and stick to it
Do your research in advance. Knowing who is coming prior to the event can help you identify key contacts so you don’t feel like you’re headed into the event unequipped.
Networking events often have a list of professionals who have been invited to give a talk or participate in a panel. Their biographies should be provided right on the event page.
The age of social media has also ushered in alternative ways to find out information beyond the event information. Facebook event pages will show who is interested in an event, and sometimes your mutual friends will be going.
Another option is to use LinkedIn to identify contacts and their experience. While it may be tempting to put yourself into private viewing mode on LinkedIn, there is a strategic benefit to leaving it public when looking up potential contacts. If you’re lucky, they’ll recognize your profile before or after the event!
Lastly, set small goals. Identify 1-3 contacts you might like to say hi to and give your elevator pitch. Each time you chat with one of them, give yourself a hearty pat on the back.
3. Dress to impress, but also to be comfortable
From Reader’s Digest to Vogue, many experts, fashionistas, and journalists agree that dressing can improve your confidence. This can be done through colour, as red has long been cited as a power colour, or through the style and cut of your shirts, skirts, dresses, and pants. That being said, be sure that your clothing is comfortable and breathable. It’s natural to sweat when you’re nervous, but you don’t want to feel like your blazer is suddenly stuck to you.
If there is a dress code, be sure to stick to it to avoid feeling out of place. Don’t be afraid to show off your personality though with accessories—a pair of dangly earrings or a patterned watch never hurt anyone (as far as I know). Feel free to put on your good luck charms too.
When in doubt about the dress code, overdressed is a safer bet than underdressed.
4. Ask lots of questions
There are two governing laws of the universe: People love talking about themselves, and introverts are great listeners!
For quieter introverts, talking about yourself can be really emotionally draining. It’s something that we’re often not used to and may feel like bragging. Redirecting the conversation can take pressure off of you and provide a break. Furthermore, people love to talk about themselves and their own career paths! More experienced professionals at these events are literally there as a resource to you, so ask them as many questions as your heart desires.
Rather than search for typical sample networking questions online, think about what you are genuinely interested in finding out. Was there something you saw on their LinkedIn profile that you want to ask more about? Sometimes topic can come from the panel or speech beforehand as well.
Genuine interest will help you stay engaged without feeling like networking is an obligation.
5. Fake it ‘til you make it!
Affirmations can go a long way. While you may not feel the most confident, remind yourself of your preparation, your past achievements, and your overall excellence. You are a superstar! Avoid thinking about before or after, and instead focus on the person right in front of you.
That being said, be sure to take breaks when needed. Networking can be emotionally demanding, so stepping out for a breath of fresh air or a drink of water is well deserved!
Remember that networking is supposed to be fun. Ensure that you are going to the networking events that are in line with your interests. Additionally, don’t feel bad if you don’t make all the connections you want on the first try. It’s a game that takes practice, and each experience makes the subsequent one easier.
Networking isn’t a business transaction, a robotic exchange of information, or another add to your LinkedIn profile—it’s about making friends, building genuine relationships, and finding mutually beneficial opportunities.
Need more advice? Check out our e-book Land the Interview for more tips.
Good luck, and happy networking!
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.