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If you ‘d rather have root canal surgery than attend a networking event, this post is for you.

To extroverts and outgoing people, this might sound extreme, however to an introvert or a shy person, the thought of approaching complete strangers or engaging them in conversation can be anxiety-inducing. Introversion and shyness appear similar, but they are 2 very different characteristics. Introverts typically succeed in smaller, more intimate settings because they choose to be alone, but they are good listeners. Shyness refers more to how a person deals with others in unknown situations; they have a hard time meeting new people, and in most cases, it’s fear-based.

Here are the important things: If you find it challenging to engage with people, face to face, and even online, that’s OKAY. Networking isn’t something all people are innately good at or comfortable doing. Yet with some practice and a few simple hacks, you can manage these scenarios with more ease and less concern. Keep these hacks in your back pocket for the next networking event you’re dreading.

Networking is fundamental to good business and marketing, so embrace it by finding what works for you.

1. Do your homework and plan ahead.
Shy people battle with starting conversations with strangers, but planning can help in reducing your stress and anxiety. As the event approaches, do your homework. Start by learning who will be there and look them up via social media (i.e., LinkedIn, Google, and Twitter). Discovering more about the event and some of the other participants or speakers beforehand this will help you feel that you have some understanding on which to base conversations.

2. Set goals and stay with them.
You did your research; now go into the situation with planned goals. If the event is offline, plan to hand out 50 business cards and talk to five people. If the event is online, set a goal to follow up with X-amount of people with a phone call or email.

3. Bring your own swag.
When networking offline, think about getting a cool or edgy business card for networking events that is different from your regular one. A signature piece of clothes or jewellery can also aide conversation. Moz founder Rand Fishkin, was first known by many as “that guy at the conferences with the brilliant yellow shoes.” It made him memorable!

4. Focus on them, not you (at first).
A lot of introverts don’t realize they’re already great conversationalists; the idea of conversing with other people might make them so anxious they won’t give themselves a chance. In conversation, listen, then ask questions (we have a helpful guide here) to take the attention off of you and onto the other person. Don’t feel that you need to fill every lull in conversation with babble about yourself. People love being asked questions and given a chance to share info.

5. Use the buddy system.
It’s easier to make your way through a huge crowd with a person you can turn to. If you don’t have a colleague you’re particularly friendly with, tag a good friend along. Do not just speak to that person, or you’ll miss out on making new connections.

6. Have a drink
Now, I’m not recommending you get tanked at your next networking event, that wouldn’t benefit anybody. However, indulging in an alcohol drink at the beginning of the occasion can make you feel a little less anxious. If having a drink isn’t your thing, then what is? I’ve seen people use everything from chewing gum to herbal tea as ways of relaxing. What’s your “thing”? All of us have one; bring it with you (within reason of course.)

7. Make a cheat sheet.
In the very same way that some people write affirmations on Post-Its use a cheat sheet of networking affirmations and triggers to keep these hacks fresh in your mind. Like anything, it’s easy to commit to trying harder and making a change, but far more difficult to practice it regularly. Happy networking and we will see you at the Hirespace awards on 17 October: ).

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