You will probably be interested in this post by Allison Shields titled "Networking for Shy People" if you find networking meetings a tad intimidating. Allison’s tips may be summarised as follows:
- Arrive early;
- Seek out the host or group leader;
- Bring a friend;
- Look for other outsiders;
- Head for the bar or food (I seem to do this a lot).
The need to network is a relatively new thing for me. Before I left my last job I didn’t really need to network. I had work because my department was busy and any form of networking was done without the pressure to cement relationships and generate work. After I went out on my own I quickly realised that it is essential to network with people to build a business, which only added to the pressure of starting a new business because I am not an overly outgoing person when I first encounter a new group.
What I soon realised is that these meetings often include a number of people who are like me. They don’t know anyone and have attended in the hope of starting to build that network of contacts. They feel the same awkwardness that I feel and this realisation helped me get past much of that initial awkwardness and start speaking to people. This reminds me of a practice I read about in a book by a Buddhist nun which involves looking at what you feel and reminding yourself that other people feel the same things and that really helps move beyond the perspective of ‘You versus Me’ to a perspective of ‘Us’.
Networking is essential if you want to build a business and it helps to think about it more in terms of just talking to people and forming meaningful relationships with them rather than this abstract notion of ‘building networks’ which tends to dehumanise the whole process. It can really be a rewarding experience starting up a conversation with someone and learning new things about them and about what they do.
Good luck! Let me know what your experiences have been when you have a chance.