If you’re anything like me, the thought of talking to a complete stranger is a horror akin to waking up covered in spiders. I’m an introvert by nature, and making an effort to meet new people is definitely high on my list of stressful situations.
It is a vital part of gathering contacts and making job connections, though, which you will probably use for the rest of your life. So, despite the desire to stay safely passive and remain overlooked, the effort needed to overcome a little anxiety is well worth the payoff.
The hardest part of networking is beginning. Overcoming that initial fear is a bit like the first day of school; you don’t know them, they don’t know you, and first impressions can be paramount. Sure, you can choose to be that shy kid who never talks to anyone and sits in the back of the classroom, horrified when you’re called on or any attention is directed towards you, but what good would that do you in the long run?
If you choose this route of thinking, you won’t have to face the anxiety and stress that goes along with meeting new people, but you’ll also miss out on a score of potential business opportunities. You’re also missing opportunities to make good friends and share new, interesting experiences.
So, where should you start?
Start with what you know: Do you enjoy 3D animation? Join a user group! Like hockey? Join a hockey team! You get the idea, right? Starting with your interests is a good, less intimidating, way to break into networking.
Get Organized: Pick a place to store your contacts and stick with it. It’s simple and it guarantees that you won’t be left wondering if the number scrawled in your notebook is Dave from the user group, or Bob from the conference.
Stay Connected: Once you start building a network of your own, it’s very easy to become lazy and let your connections fall apart. A quick email or phone call can go a long way in maintaining valuable contacts and friendships.
Networking isn’t always a planned experience. Occasionally you’ll make good connections without realizing it at the time. For example, I once entered a contest on the GameCubeLand.com website on a whim. The owner of the site contacted me via instant messenger when I won and I never took him off of my contact list. One day he mentioned that the site was in need of a banner ad, and as I had a bit of free time, I created one while we talked and sent it to him free of charge.
Fast forward to a few months later and I’m now an active staff member for their site and part of the crew which went to the E3 conference, otherwise known as video game geek heaven. This was not planned, I was not looking for work, but even openness to meeting new people can go a long way.
The bottom line is this: No one can make your connections for you. It takes effort and it takes courage to overcome the anxiety and stress which comes with being an introvert in group situations.
Once you do start developing these connections, it becomes easier, far less nerve wracking, and at times even enjoyable.The only way to truly fail is not to try at all, so you might as well enjoy yourself and make connections while you’re at it!
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