By Ellie Batchiyska

Networking. The mere thought of it can make even the most sociable want to pack up their valise and catch the next flight home. While it can be nerve-wracking for those dripping in extroversion, it’s even more challenging for those that barely feel comfortable conversing with their Starbucks barista. Cue nervous sweating, am I right?

Nonetheless, even shy and introverted individuals want to be successful, and establishing valuable business relationships is a crucial component of that. One of the best ways to forge these relationships is by attending conferences or joining groups that encourage communication with colleagues.

Networking primarily consists of introducing ourselves, laying out our list of accolades, and subtly pointing to the relationship’s mutual benefit. Thus begins the process of building your Rolodex — a concept that has made you cringe up until now. Despite all of this, there are still ways to network effectively for those that are timid. As a fellow introvert, I’m happy to outline them for you.

1. Practice In the Mirror

This is the oldest trick in the book, but it works. Practice your smile, handshake, and everything you want to say while seeing what others will see. The mirror instills comfort by assuring you that you don’t look as ridiculous as you feel. Simultaneously, it instills slight discomfort by forcing you to look yourself in the eye. If practice makes perfect, then practicing in the mirror makes for ideal.

2. Jot Down Your Talking Points

One of the beauties of networking talk is that it’s routine. This means you can prep by notating your talking points in advance. You can even prepare a brief casual speech: begin by introducing yourself and what you do, segue into some of your accolades, and rid yourself of the spotlight by transitioning into asking others what they do. Always have business cards ready, as this exchange lends a natural close to the conversation yet allows you to keep the lines of communication open.

3. Be Candid

Expressing your discomfort over networking might even be an excellent ice-breaker. You can start with something like: “Networking events can be so unnerving for me sometimes, but I’m always just so fascinated with the people that I meet.” Open, honest, yet still shows you’re interested in forging a relationship. Not only will this opening line contribute to your own comfort, but it will make others that share the same sentiments feel more comfortable with you also.

4. Find Alternative Networking Opportunities

Networking doesn’t always have to take place at a huge seminar or social event. Thanks to the internet, it can be just as effective (if not more) to engage with people virtually. LinkedIn was created for this purpose, and is a great way for more timid individuals to strike up a conversation. Through LinkedIn (and numerous other forums), you can simply shoot individuals a message or ask if they’d be willing to set up a phone call. This removes the element of spontaneity and unpredictability that makes networking such an uncomfortable task.

5. Remember That You are Your Own Worst Critic

One of the hardest things to accept if you’re more reserved, is that you will always judge yourself more harshly than others do. After all, networking is all about selling yourself, and as an introvert, you know yourself better than most people know themselves. Play on this strength, and trust that you always appear more composed than you feel.

A Final Word…

While shyness and introversion are not necessarily interchangeable, introversion usually is a result of shyness. And, while society may be quick to discount introversion as a negative quality, it couldn’t be more wrong. One of the great powers of introverts is their outstanding listening capabilities – a quality that is highly valued due to its rareness.

Being an attentive listener is something that will make your networking skills stand out. It shows you are interested in what other professionals have to say. It also shows that you handle yourself with poise, pride, and politeness. These are huge selling points when you’re selling yourself, and ones that are very hard to come across.

Ironically enough, with this quality and the aforementioned advice, the qualities you once viewed as weaknesses could easily turn into your most appealing traits. Establishing contacts is not based on talking a lot or talking over people, but quite the contrary. It is based on listening, reflecting, and showcasing your emotional intelligence. Ultimately, these characteristics better retain long-term relationships than any others.

Photo credit: Shy woman hiding her face from Pathdoc/Shutterstock