And if you're anything like me, networking does not come naturally. I used to be extremely shy, and I didn't see myself ever changing. But I have changed, and so can you! Here are some tips I've found helpful in maximizing my networking skills.
1. Practice "let's pretend."
Ask yourself, "What would the ideal networker do in this situation?" Pretend that you are that person, and do it. As you consciously emulate good networkers, you can reinvent yourself. You'll never be perfect, but you can make steps that take you closer and closer to becoming a networking guru.
2. Adopt a role model.
Best case scenario, your role model is also your mentor, helping you, advising you, guiding you, even lending you his network as you build your own. If you can, ask her how she got to where she is now. Attend events with him and take mental notes.
3. Take lessons.
You're taking one now as you read this blog, but there are other educational opportunitites that are helpful for overcoming shyness and inexperience. Attend lectures and trainings, such as the Conservative Intern Workshop and the Conservative Career Workshop run by the Leadership Institute, to learn tips for feeling more comfortable in networking situations.
4. Join up.
Just about any group or organization offers opportunities to make contacts and grow personally and professionally, which you can tailor to your career and your personal hobbies. Join political groups, teach Sunday school, and, of course, take a fitness class at your local gym. Surround yourself with people you aspire to be more like. Networking doesn't just happen at stuffy cocktail parties. Look for fun opportunities to meet other people.
5. Have a little faith...
...in yourself. Dale Carnegie summed it up well: "You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. Which is another way of saying that the way to make a friend is to be one." Remember that networking is a two-way street. Your motivations do not have to be selfish. Focus on establishing relationships.
I send you off with a maxim from networking expert Harvey Mackay: "The more you exercise your networking muscles, the stronger they get - and the easier networking becomes." Give yourself opportunities to practice, and have patience while learning.