View a 508-compliant PDF of this issue here: NICHD_Connection_2011_08.pdf

Networking is "the practice of making meaningful contact and exchanging information with other people, groups or institutions."1

Interaction is an important part of most careers in science, but what if you are the type of person who avoids meeting new people or fears building connections through networking. To help people who dislike networking, OITE recently organized a seminar titled "Networking for People Who Hate Networking" presented by Devora Zack, author of the recent bestseller with the same title. The presentation consisted of fun activities for the participants followed by practical and helpful tips for overcoming the fear of networking.

According to Devora, most people hate networking because they approach making contacts as a chore. Others with a shy personality simply do not want to talk to new people. Without trying to convince attendees why they should network, Devora, a self-proclaimed introvert, approached the reluctance to networking by giving helpful tips on how to make interaction easy.

Here are the primary rules for how to alleviate the fear of networking:

  • Choose one to two networking events in a year and do not try to talk to everyone in the room. The key is to make a meaningful connection, even if it is only with one person.
  • Remember, you have something to offer to everyone. So to strike up a conversation, get creative. Having trouble remembering names? Ask for the spelling and then repeat it.
  • When networking, start with general questions. Often, in an attempt to make a connection quickly, people ask personal questions which may offend someone. Instead, ask a few general questions, and then let the other person lead the way in the conversation. If your audience has an extroverted personality, then anything will get them going. If the other person is an introvert or a centrovert (yes, it is a real word), then it is a good idea to read up on a few general topics of interest before going to any event.
  • Do not talk to the same person throughout the entire evening, but do not try to work the whole room either.
  • Follow up within 48 hours of the event with an email or a thank you note. Make your note/email unique by asking about something the speaker mentioned or attaching an article of interest. To make a big impression, consider sending a hand-written note. Think creatively.
  • Find alternatives to serious networking events. Attend an event at a music or movie fan club or volunteer at an event (this will give you ample opportunities to talk to others).

You can find these and other networking tips in Devora's book "Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed, and the Underconnected." A copy of the book is available in the OITE library.

Remember, life is a networking event where you are constantly making connections without actually trying to connect.