Networking for Folks Who Don’t Like It

Let me admit that I am not, by nature, a networker. I’d much rather hang back and appear engrossed in reading the side of a soda can than mix it up with people I met two minutes ago. It’s not that I’m a shy person, but let’s face it, how many people feel at ease upon entering a room full of strangers?

I’ve found that when I focus on the person and not the task of networking, I can get past most of, if not all, my trepidation. It helps to go into it with a few simple strategies.

Here are my survival tips for folks that don’t absolutely love networking:

  • Get there on time. It’s easier to start a conversation when you’re one of the first to arrive, rather than the last one to join in.
  • Smile. Just do it (even if you don’t feel like it)! A smile can quickly diffuse nervousness – yours and someone else’s – and it makes you more approachable.
  • Ask easy questions.How do you start? With the world’s easiest questions, of course: “May I join you?” or “What brings you here?” Be sure to do a lot of listening before starting your own story.
  • Share for real.When it’s your turn to speak, share why you love your organization and what you do there. Enthusiasm is contagious and helps folks engage on a different level -- people enjoy talking about their passions.
  • Follow up. If you really want to impress them, send your new friend a note to let them know that you enjoyed meeting and talking with them. I prefer handwritten notes as they’ve become very rare these days, so folks tend to appreciate and remember them all the more.

When I focus on getting to know people, rather than networking per se, I leave an event having made a couple of new friends. I learn something unexpected and pick up fresh ideas and perspectives. At events, it’s human connections that bring the experience together. They deepen my understanding of our state’s fantastic nonprofit sector and expand my own thinking and world view. It’s infinitely better than anything I could learn from reading the side of my soda can! 

Joye Hodges is conference & events manager at the N.C. Center forNonprofits and has been part of the staff team for more than four years.

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