Even if networking doesn't come naturally to you, you can improve. You may have to work hard to come out of your shell and make the contacts you need. But better networking skills can jump-start your career or business and put it on an upward path. With a little practice and the willingness to get out of your comfort zone, you can use networking to your advantage.
Compose a brief introduction for yourself, perhaps in several versions, each customized to particular situations. For example, if you want to find a new position or start a new business, write two versions -- one for employment contacts and one for venture capitalists.
Practice your introduction by standing before a mirror and paying close attention to your posture and stance. Try to exude confidence by keeping your shoulders back and your eyes up.
Find a friend or someone you feel comfortable rehearsing your short introduction in front of. Ask for constructive criticism to help you perfect your introduction or icebreaker.
Find a networking opportunity that is low-key and low-pressure at which to unveil your introductory speech. This can be anything from a casual party to an alumni event for your college or university.
Introduce yourself to at least one new person during your first networking event. By overcoming your fear or shyness, you will find the next introduction that much easier.
Keep getting out there. The best way to improve your networking skills is through real-world experience.
Dress the part. Your appearance makes up a large part of the first impression for a new contact. When networking for your career or business, choose professional attire that is suitable to the occasion and avoid over- or under-dressing. Improve the likelihood that contacts will be fruitful by following up. Send a brief email or make a couple of calls, especially if you promised or were promised information or job leads during your initial conversation.
Keep your introductory speech brief and to the point. It's sometimes referred to as an "elevator speech," as it should take no more time to make your impression than a 30-second elevator ride. This introduction should be a pithy icebreaker, conveying who you are, what you do and what you need.