1. Be the friendly, approachable person that everyone seeks to find at a networking event.
Approach the event less like the dreaded sixth-grade dance. View the event as an opportunity to make a potential new friend. Too often—especially those of us who cop to the idea that being an introvert is the reason we hate networking—approach networking events with a sense of dread. We think that everyone else finds it easy and that we are the only ones who hate it, but that is simply not the case. It may be helpful for you to know that about half of the people in the room are introverts just like you given that that is how the population breaks down. That means that there are a lot of people in the room who are looking for a friendly face to talk to, and there is no reason that friendly face can’t be yours.
2. Make up your mind going in that don’t need to try to meet everyone.
You don’t need to look (or be) schizophrenic. Decide to strike up 3-5 quality conversations over the course of a 2-hour event, if you have that much time. Offer your card (be sure to have plenty of cards, by the way) and ask them for theirs and ask about what they do instead of going straight into your elevator pitch. Give the other person a chance to talk first. Then, they will feel more comfortable and will want to reciprocate by listening to what you do or what you are looking for when they finish.
3. Look your best, and you will feel more confident.
Take the time before every event to dress for success and then go in with a feeling of confidence and competence. If you can’t feel the confidence, then fake it. Others are going to be nervous and tentative, too. If you look great and act like you know what you are doing, people are likely to gravitate to you. Don’t forget to smile and be friendly. Strike up conversations with strangers by complimenting them on something they are wearing.
Guys, don’t get creepy about it, but it’s okay to compliment a woman on a brooch or scarf that she is wearing. Ladies, it’s okay to say, “I like that tie” to the men. Let the conversation flow naturally from there. Just remember to keep it light and professional. You are not there to get a date. You are there to get a job.
4. Have a notebook handy so that you can take notes if needed, and listen attentively.
Perhaps you know someone to whom you could offer an introduction. Wouldn’t that be awesome! Making introductions is as important as having others offer introductions to you. Helping others is what networking is about, and there is no rule that says you always have to go with the feeling that you are arriving hat in hand looking for someone to do something for you. It is a powerful and empowering feeling if you approach the event with the idea that you might be able to offer help to someone else.
5. Follow up after the event.
Don’t just collect business cards for the sake of collecting business cards. Call to make a date for coffee. E-mail the person letting them know you enjoyed your conversation with them. Don’t let the two hours you just spent meeting 3-5 new people go to waste because you are too “busy” or too shy to follow up. Make your conversations of the type and quality that getting back with the person and setting up a coffee or lunch date makes sense for both of you. Even if the individual in question doesn’t have a job for you, he/she might know someone who knows someone who knows someone. That’s why it is called networking.