By Jaclyn Tersigni

Networking, for many people, is a nightmare. Talking to strangers can feel uncomfortable and handing over your business card can feel awkward. And if you’re shy or introverted, it’s enough to make you cry on the inside.

But networking is important for landing clients/investors/jobs/friends/etcetera. For entrepreneurs, it’s an essential part of building a business.

Here are 13 tips on how to network successfully — even if you’re a mingling-hating introvert.

Prepare yourself

Think about the event before you arrive and what you hope to get out of it. What sorts of people will be there? Who should you be talking to? Make a mental note of who you’d like to connect with and then consider what you’d like to talk to them about. Rehearsing how you might approach someone and what you might ask them can help calm your nerves.

Preparation is also key to feeling less self-conscious once you’re in the room. Read event descriptions carefully to discern whether you need to dress up, eat a meal beforehand or bring something with you.

Start small

Having to approach someone, on your own, is intimidating. To lessen the terror, start by striking up a conversation with someone else flying solo.

Potential conversation starters include:

  • A question: “Have you been to one of these before?”
  • A compliment: “I love your [shirt/hat/bag/glasses].”
  • An introduction: “Hi! I’m [name], I work for/with [company/organization name].”
  • A comment: “That last speaker was really great”, “If you haven’t yet, you’ve gotta try the guacamole.”

Stay in the moment

Try not to overthink the pace of the conversations you have. If you’re mentally debating what to say next, you’ll miss details and appear distracted. Focus on who you’re speaking with and what they’re saying, so your responses will be natural and the conversation will flow. Listen intently, make eye contact and leave your phone alone.

Move around

Once you’ve found someone to talk to, you might be tempted to stay in that safe corner of the room and call it a night. Don’t. Let the success of one conversation with a stranger be your motivation to work the room and approach others. Pick your “targets” carefully, though; look for breaks in conversations before joining a group and watch for body language that might indicate that someone doesn’t want to be interrupted.

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Ask to be introduced

You don’t have to do all the work yourself. If a new connection mentions that they are attending the event with colleagues or that they know various other people at the event, say that you’d like to be introduced. Don’t overthink it; this is normal, networking behaviour.

Know how to exit 

When you want to move on from a conversation, patiently wait for a lull before making your move. Do not slink away after listening to a personal or sensitive story, and don’t cut the conversation off as someone starts asking you questions. When there’s a break, mention how nice it was to meet the other person or people and excuse yourself to grab a drink or use the restroom. Don’t forget to provide your card or contact details if you’re hoping to connect with someone again.

Don’t get drunk

The classic MO of a networking-averse attendee is to have a drink to relax, followed by a few more in quick succession to busy themselves. Don’t do this. Stick to one or two drinks, sipped slowly, over the course of the night. You don’t want to risk sloppy conversations or being labelled as the token lush.

Cut yourself some slack

Your goal is to meet a few new people and hopefully leave with a meaningful connection or two — not to schmooze the whole room. Don’t bully yourself, and take breaks as you need them. Go to the washroom and splash cold water on your face when need be. Pretend to be doing very important business things on your phone.

Tips from DMZ staff

Alysha D’Souza is the startup experience coordinator at the DMZ. She describes herself as “very shy and fairly introverted” but her job frequently requires her to attend networking sessions and tech events. How does she do it? Here are her tips:

  • “I usually go to networking events with a goal in mind. Usually it’s to connect with startup companies or people who work in tech to talk to them about the DMZ. I try to get a good understanding of the audience and who I should be talking to in order to achieve my goal. I also try to have a couple of discussion topics in mind in case the conversation is a bit slow in the beginning.”
  • “I have a wing person! I find it extremely helpful to attend networking events with a colleague or someone I know well. Approaching a group of people is always easier when you have someone you know with you.”
  • “I rely on name tags when approaching people. Knowing someone’s name and occupation makes the introductions much less awkward.”
  • “Know the audience/attendees and dress the part! What I’m wearing usually helps me feel confident in a room full of people. Whether it’s a formal VIP event or a casual tech meetup, if you’re dressed appropriately for the occasion, you’ll feel more comfortable.”
  • “Try to remember everyone is at the event for the same reason — to meet new people! It’s completely normal to approach someone you don’t know and strike up a conversation. Also, conversations are much easier when you make an effort to really get to know the person — not everything is about business. Ask questions about their interests outside of work, hobbies, etc. You will likely find something in common with that person and build a better relationship. “

The DMZ is a leading business incubator for tech startups in Canada. They help startups build great businesses by connecting them with customers, capital, experts and a community of entrepreneurs and influencers.

The DMZ is a partner in StartUp Here Toronto.