Let’s get down to brass tacks here. I’m no lifelong extrovert who’s anxiously waiting for the next opportunity to be in a crowd full of strangers. I like the idea of networking with a room full of people I don’t know just about as much as a cat likes to be in a bathtub full of water.

So why do people mistake me for an extrovert? Over the next four weeks, I’d like to share the answer with you and the not-so secrets to my networking success.

The Backstory

This all begins two years ago with an opportunity to attend the Inc Women’s Conference. I was just starting out on my own and didn’t know much about being an entrepreneur or even what exactly my business was going to be. However, I knew I needed to be in that room, talking it up with successful female entrepreneurs. What better opportunity to learn from those who had already been down my path?

Exercising my conversational chops was critical to jumpstarting my work and was going to go a long way toward helping me understand my next steps.

There was a problem, though. I didn’t feel cool enough, accomplished enough, secure enough, tall enough (yes, tall – it’s tough being short in a crowd), or confident enough to be in the room. Here I was, with little to no revenue, expecting to have to hold my own with a room of millionaires. Talk about intimidating….

I knew it was important to go but I wasn’t sure how to get in there and mix it up like a pro. My intuition (and six-sigma process design background) kicked into high gear. I knew there had to be a process for this: a practical way to feel better about the act and the art of “networking.” Thus, one of my first (and now my most popular speaking topics) was born.

Don’t Read the Label

When we talk about feeling intimidated or that we don’t like going to networking events, we fall back on excusing ourselves with labels: we’re introverts, we’re extroverts, we’re shy, we’re outgoing. These are all mantels that we wear, giving us reason to hang back or justification to stick with what’s familiar and comfortable.

networking, room of strangers

Some of the labels are real but most are extensions of our self-imposed limitations. A Psychology Today article from 2009 indicates that only 15-20% of us have characteristics of being naturally shy. Forty to fifty percent of us through our life experiences become shy. I can attest. I often share in my seminars that I was so shy in high school I could hardly order at the counter at a fast food restaurant. So many choices, so much pressure to choose quickly…I was so intimidated. Our life experiences and outside factors can push us into feeling like we’re shy.

Isn’t it good to know you are not alone? You are not the only one who’s feeling intimidated, scared, shy, wondering what you’re going to talk about next, or hoping you don’t drop sauce on your jacket.

At least 50% of us are worried and intimidated.

Those of us who are in the remaining 50% still want to make a great impression and are trying hard not to suck at it. That’s all of us. Seriously. All of us.

80% of us are “Privately Shy”

In fact, that same Psychology Today article reports that eighty percent of us are what’s called “privately shy.” Those privately shy folks are the ones who are in that networking event room, chatting it up with everybody with no outward signs of intimidation, but inside there’s a different story going on. While they talk about the latest business developments or current events, they’ve got those voices in their heads that are telling them things like “you just dropped sauce on your jacket,” “I can’t believe you just said that,” “you should have shaken hands more firmly.”

Perhaps the 80% who are in the room looking all “social,” shaking hands and trading business cards with ease are just really great fakers. I love what Amy Cuddy says in her Ted Talk and in her book Presence: “fake it till you become it.” The more we give ourselves “incremental nudges” toward something that scares or intimidates us, raising the bar of our own capability and confidence, the better we are able to reach that same bar comfortably the next time. Maybe the 80% have been at this networking game longer than we have. They’ve had more practice.

Well, how do we do it, then? How do we gather up the want-to for networking and leave behind the energy suck of have-to? How do we get in the room and back out feeling like our time was well spent? Turns out there is a practical way to prepare yourself for a networking event whether you are chomping at the bit to get in the door or, like me, you are convincing yourself the whole way in.

How to Build Your Networking Chops

For the next four weeks, I will be sharing four high-level tactics that have worked for me and my clients that you can immediately put into practice to feel more confident going into the room and more successful when you leave. It is easier done than you would think. You’re going to get so comfortable in the room, you might actually start looking forward to being there.

What are your questions, your constraints and your concerns about networking? We can attack those limitations together. We can stop networking and start building relationships instead!

Who’s with me?

*** As you keep your eyes peeled for the weekly tips, enjoy this cheat sheet of conversation starters and closers you can start using today! ***

series intro networking