Networking is awful. I hate it.
I say this as an introvert who fakes extroversion very well. Maybe it was the moving abroad, but I had to learn to ignore the twisting in my stomach and tame my quavering voice and just go meet the people. After all, the people didn’t know I was sitting alone in my apartment wishing for someone to talk to. They didn’t know I existed.
So I adopted a strategy: be a little bit pushy and a lot polite. I still get nervous, but now at least I only eat lunch alone at conferences when I want to, and I’ve met so many interesting people!
Let me clarify “pushy.” No one likes that person who won’t leave them alone and doesn’t seem to be able to read body signals or tones of voice. It’s more that I feel pushy. It feels like I’m imposing because I’m trying to overcome my natural shyness. My head is saying “Hiyouseemniceimgoingtotalktoyouokbemyfriend?!?” But my actual voice is closer to, “Hey, did I hear you’re on the way to the convention center? I am too. Would you like to share a cab?” Then we can chat (or not) on the way to the convention area.
“Pushy” also means assuming a yes, as in “Sure I’ll share a cab.” After all, most people (especially librarians) try hard to be polite and kind. If your request is reasonable, why wouldn’t they say yes? Assuming a yes was how I got Daniel Handler, Maira Kalman, Stephen Chbosky, and 30 different librarians to talk into my phone for my “Live from ALA” podcast. I just asked with a smile. Not everyone said yes, but most people did. (A few of those who said no just needed a little further convincing that they had something worth listening to.)
This doesn’t just go for in-person events. Twitter is a fantastic way to get attention from people you want to know or work with. 140 characters can start something wonderful, or it can be completely ignored. It’s a low stakes way to make a connection.
On to the other half of this method: be a lot polite. Say thank you for everything. Everything. Be gracious. Be willing to pay back a favor. Negotiate for what you want with what they can give, and then throw in a bonus. I sent a thank you email with a link to every person who gave me a sound bite (except the few I didn’t have cards for, and the one who’s email didn’t work). It all boils down to the idea that you don’t want any of the people who helped you out to regret it. If you get what you want and then ignore them, or are rude, or take the whole credit for something, they will not help you again. And worse, they might not help out the next person who asks.
This won’t work every time. People are busy, they can’t say yes to everything. But it’s worth the stress and the butterflies in your stomach to give it a shot. So deep breath, exhale. Now ask that question.