Shy Networkers Network

Building Your Network: 5 Tips For Shy Networkers


For shy networkers, building your network can be a challenge. A week ago, I attended a business mixer sponsored by the Portland Business Journal, and was immediately reminded about something.

As I walked into the crowded room of about 200 professionals, I remembered that keeping up the art of networking requires you to keep working at it. Like exercising a muscle, you need to keep flexing it in order to keep it in shape.

Not that I have any excuse… I have been (ahem) a little negligent myself lately in getting out into true networking situations where I don’t know anyone.

A heavy client load and multiple projects have kept my time constrained to running from appointment to appointment, with no time (or energy) to commit to going to any after-hours networking events. I’ve been too exhausted.

But that is no excuse.

I realized it had been awhile since the last networking event that I had attended, and silently resolved to get myself back out there.

So, as I entered that room, I suddenly realized how flabby my networking muscle was. And I’ll admit it: I was scared since I knew a total of two people out of that crowd.

Why was I scared?

Because deep down, I am actually a horrifically shy person. And when anyone who is shy is thrust into a setting where it is densely packed and they don’t really know anyone, the natural instinct is to clam up and find a corner of the room for shelter.

It was all I could do to force myself into the heaving crowd. But I did it.

When people reveal to me that they are shy or have a hard time networking, I know that pain… personally. But you CAN get past it and it can open up new doors in ways you couldn’t have imagined.

During the event, I pushed myself past the shyness envelope, made eye contact with strangers, and stuck out my hand to say hello. I met a lot of people that night through the power of networking.

One gentleman I met was interested in resume writing services for himself (he contacted me later to follow up- a good sign); another was slipping past a door I was standing near and I jokingly said, “In order to pass, you need to introduce yourself.”

Turns out he was an executive coach and after chatting, we set up a meeting the very next day to figure out how we could refer business to each other.

And a client of mine (one of the two people I knew at the event) was chatting with another gentleman to whom she introduced me… turns out he was involved with a workforce board and we had a lot to discuss. Since then, we have met in person over coffee and shared ideas over e-mail.

So, if you say you are shy and that is the reason why you aren’t good at networking, that is a self-imposed barrier you have put up in front of yourself.

Yes, it can be uncomfortable. But here are a few quick tips for you to get through that initial awkward conversational stage and transform the people you meet at events into powerful contacts in your network:

1. Be Fearless

Walk up, stick out your hand, introduce yourself, ask them about what they do, then shut up. People love to talk about themselves. So let them. Being quiet means you don’t have to come up with things to talk about and you can take their conversational lead!

2. Be Well-Read

Keeping up with current events and business trends gives you a treasure trove to draw from in terms of conversational topics.

3. Initiate A Call To Action

If you want to learn more, there’s only so much you can chat about comfortably in a crowded room. Suggest to meet the person over coffee in a less busy setting. You’ll both be more relaxed and the ideas can flow more freely.

4. Follow Up In 24 Hours

Don’t shove the person’s card in your drawer and call it good. That’s not networking. That’s called disposing of your contacts (I am not talking about the kind you stick in your eyes).

E-mail messages are good, but even a nice little hand-written note can lend some distinction to your thoughtfulness.

5. If The Conversation Isn’t Working Out Very Well, Release The Person

You can always excuse yourself if they have lost interest or there isn’t any rapport building.  (Or if they are looking over your shoulder!)

Say, “Well, it was nice meeting you and we should both probably mingle a little more… thanks again for chatting!” and then let them go.

Sometimes, shy people have a habit of clinging to people that they are able to talk to and then never letting them go. Don’t be one of those networkers! The purpose is to meet as many people as you can.

Don’t let yourself become your own worst obstacle to networking. Get out there, and get a networking workout… the more you do it, the easier it will become!

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Dawn Rasmussen

Dawn Rasmussen is president of Portland, Oregon-based Pathfinder Writing and Career Services, which provides resume, cover letter, and job searching assistance.


  1. Remembering that I have something to offer will be a big help at my next networking event. I like helping people although usually I help remotely – by email or blog post. Face-to-face though, you can see the benefit immediately. That is nice to experience.

    Thanks for the reminder that shyness or reserve is not so exclusive a mode, too.

  2. As an extremely shy networker, I try to be creative: If possible I try to write some type conversation starter on my nametag; something like “My First Car was a Taurus” or “My first company event”. The benefit is two fold: people know something about you immediately which makes others comfortable sharing and leads to more conversation

  3. My ongoinh inquiry and dilemma lies when I try to help others but am not responded back to or when already having established mutial exchanges suddenly the other person stops responding whichcan not be seen?

  4. Great article. I speak about and train people on good networking practice and I fully identify with the idea of letting your “networking muscles” get flabby. Seems like the summer months especially can throw up barriers to a regular practice.

    Several of the comments below talk about feeling a lack of confidence due to being “in transition” and this is something I’ve heard numerous times from my clients. Remember, you always have value in your experience as a human being. Have you traveled? You might have general advice or even specific recommendations about a particular destination. Have you held a job before? You can offer guidance on the industry or the specific company. Did you go to school? You have personal experience with the education process and might even still have connections within that community. The list goes on and on.

    Remember, many of the folks you will be networking with are in your same situation. Heck, anyone who is an entrepreneur is always looking for that next job/client. Focus on ways you can help them (and it doesn’t have to be just connecting them to a client or a career) and they will look at you as a valuable member of their network. When they know you care about their success is when they’ll start caring about yours.

  5. You all have such great advice!

    I have found in my years that its all about what you can do for them and in turn it will be reciprocated. Now that can be weeks, months or years but none the less, people will remember what you have done for them.

    My purpose for when attending an event is asking myself, “how many people can I introduce to one another that can benefit from each other.”

    If I met a plumber earlier and realize that the person I am talking to currently does construction, I will make it a point to say “have you met joe the plumber? You might be able to work with him, lets go meet him”

    And who knows, they may come back and bring or refer me business. Remember, networking is all about cultivating relationships; it’s going to take time to grow!

    Good luck all!

  6. I think men have made over women in the networking arena.

    I think women may be more prone to being self conscious about appearance(weight, complexion, hair, smile) or voice ( I was harrassed by a minority group of women when I temped at this financial services firm over my nasally voice which I have no control over due to my sinuses which has really undermined my confidence). Believe me less talking would be a godsend. I can’t tell you how many jobs I lost and opportunities turned down just on my voice alone.)How can one overcome their hangups that cause the shyness in the first place?

    • Cynthia Allen Schenk

      For many women the news is really good…Confidence improves greatly with age…So keep at it and never give up. Life is all about learning and growing every single day.

  7. I struggle with networking. I can talk myself into going to the event but that is as far as I get. I like the staying current tip. That should give me something to chat about.
    The other issue I experience is those people just there to collect business cards and blast you with e-mails. Not helpful at all. To me networking is about the relationship you can develop with other professionals. I do not want to be sold and I will not refer my clients if I don’t know I can trust you.

    • It’s that first step that is the hardest to do. Keith Ferrazzi, author of “Never Eat Alone” said, “don’t come to the event empty handed” Bring ideas, stories, news that is relevant and interesting. This really helps.

      I love to see the people who are there to “grip and grin & collect business cards.” I won’t hand out my business card without a clear reason for following up.

      Most people networking don’t understand networking is about “finding, developing and nurturing relationships that mutually move people forward in life.”

      I wrote the book “Networking for Mutual Benefit” because too many people don’t get it.

      Good point about being trusted.


  8. Everybody is not in the same situation and doesn’t have the same opportunities.

    I live in a rural area with few events for networking and they are all invitation only. I haven’t been invited to any type of event, not even a private party in over two years.

    I’m unemployed so I don’t have a chance to meet people at work, but when I do meet new people the first question is always, “Where do you work?”. When they realize you have no value as a contact, they don’t care to continue any conversation.

    • That’s a good point you raised Scott and I think a lot of people can be in teh same situation.

      When you say “when they realize you do not have a value as a contact”, I think it is a proof that somewhere you’re failing to market yourself. Everybody has a value as a contact; it’s just a matter of being clear about what value you can add. If you cannot connect someone with other people to the industry, it doesn’t mean you don’t have knowledge about the industry or that other people can’t learn from you.

      I guess a good way to deal with your situation is to redirect the topic: when a person asks you where do you work, tell them you’re currently looking for a job (opposed to “I’m unemployed”) and market yourself talking about your skills and experience.

    • You are not alone Scott. I talk with people all the time who live in rural areas where group networking is not a big item. However, I wonder if there are volunteer opportunities for you? Is there a church, a local park, even a few sidewalks. Networking can be done in lots of different places, not just the typical Networking groups.

      Additionally, some of the best networking starts with your inner circle. Talk your family, friends, neighbors, barber, butcher, etc. Don’t ask them about a job, but instead ask them this question, “Who do you know that I should talk with?” This question, when answered helps to open new doors and create new opportunities for discussions that can lead to that job conversation.

      Good luck Scott.

    • I have the same problem, I am unemployed and for that reason, I am shy. I have lower self esteem and confidence when attending a net working event.

  9. Thanks for the good information. I am going to a networkng even tomorrow and the timing of your article is perfect.

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