I’ve always been a closeted introvert. I see networking events as the “necessary evil” part of the freelance lifestyle. Walking around and having casual conversation with complete strangers sends chills down my spine. So when I found a free “mingling school” for introverts online, I knew I had to take it. How else could I get rid of the “oh my God, don’t come towards me, stranger!” feeling I had every time I saw a smiling face approaching? Here are six tips that I successfully implemented to help me improve my mingling techniques at networking events.
1. Check your language. I started the article with the confession that I am an introvert. That’s what I thought about myself my entire life. But what if that’s not actually the case? What if, by simply labeling myself as an introvert, I’m transforming this into a self-fulfilling prophecy? Some of the labels we assign to ourselves are holding us back. Because of them, we don’t see the “other path” when it presents itself. The reality is that I can be shy, and I can also become better at mingling. Being good at networking is a skill that can be trained. It is not who I am, but what I do that matters.
2. Let go of negative focus. Your brain is hardwired to take care of your well-being. If you consider mingling a stressful situation, your body will react as such. Your anxiety will kick in, your palms will start to sweat, your muscles will tense and your pulse will accelerate. Your brain is equipped for survival, so it naturally kicks into survival mode. But networking is rarely a life-threatening event, despite the feelings of fear we have towards it. Train your mind to stop focusing on a potential negative outcome by following tip no. 3.
3. Imagine the obstacles aren’t there. Most of the time, we tend to imagine the outcome as a worst case scenario. What if I say something stupid? What if I stutter? What if I won’t fit in? Take some time before the event and write down best case scenarios. What is the best thing that could happen if I dare to put myself out there? What connections could I make? What opportunities could I uncover? This is what you’ll miss out on if you decide not to attend.
4. Find the common ground. If you think you’re the only one at the event dreading the small talk, have I got news for you. You’re not. There are other people in the room who would rather be somewhere else too. And guess what. That’s only one of the things you have in common. The brain signals approval when we meet someone that we share some common ground with. So find the common ground with other attendees. It can be anything, from working in the same field, to having the same name, to liking the same restaurants. You can also research beforehand who is going to attend the event and figure out one or two things that you have in common. It’s not stalking. It’s preparation. Preparation often eases anxiety.
5. Use self-fulfilling prophecies to your advantage. We usually think of a self-fulfilling prophecy in negative terms. We’re afraid that something bad will happen, and it does. What if we could reverse that? Studies show that people who think they’ll be liked by others will behave in ways that will, indeed, make them more likeable. They appear less nervous and more warm, so they are more likely to elicit a positive response in a social situation. Start with the belief that the event will be a success and that you’ll manage to make good connections. If in doubt on how to do that, go back to the answers you wrote down for tip no. 3.
6. New behaviors are like new shoes. This metaphor is probably the best take-away from the Mingling School for Introverts course. When you first wear a new pair of shoes, it’s bound to feel uncomfortable. But the more you break them in, the better you feel wearing them. It’s the same with new behaviors. They’re difficult and uncomfortable at first, but if you persevere in them, they become second nature. They just fit. Mingling and networking are skills, therefore they can be trained. And the best training methods include training our behaviors. This takes time and practice, but it is possible.
For more lessons on overcoming shyness and mastering mingling skills, check out the free e-course Mingling School for Introverts by psychologist Jenny Rickardsson. You’ll find out useful tips and exercises on how to find an opening and a closing line, how to do the opposite of what you’re feeling inside, and how to turn the attention outward.
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