We have all heard that networking is crucial to career success. If you are an introvert like me, you might cringe a little just hearing that. For most of my career I felt resigned to the fact that networking as an introvert is going to be painful.

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. – Maya Angelou

Being that networking is important I had to change my attitude. Over the last year, I made it one of my professional development goals to confront my aversion to networking events head-on. I sought out strategies to counteract my negative feelings through conversations with my colleagues, online articles, and LinkedIn. Throughout the last year, I actively networked outside of my comfort zone at large conferences, career fairs and other UF events. Here are four strategies that were key in changing my approach and energy surrounding networking events:

1. Prepare
This one seems obvious, but it really does help make conversations easier to start and maintain. It also boosts the quality of conversation!
• No matter what type of setting you will be networking in, research the people that are going to be there. People don’t feel like strangers once you know a little bit more about them. And connections are more authentic when you have things in common – as someone that hates small talk this is a nonnegotiable step for me now.
• Practice your introduction. I am guilty of snapchatting my close friends my introduction or elevator pitch to get the timing and tone down pat. It also helps with the nerves to add a funny filter or voice to it.

TIP: Here are my tried and true introduction templates:
o My name is [________], I do [________]to solve [this problem]
o Introduction: Past (what you have accomplished), present (what you are doing now to grow personally and professionally), future (what you want to learn and do as you continue your career path)

2. Listen
This was my true lightbulb moment when it comes to networking – it isn’t about me. Sure, I am trying to gather information, but information lies in the stories people share, if I ask the right questions. I felt like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders, when I stopped listening to formulate a “perfect response” and started listening to truly understand the perspective of the individual I am talking to.

TIP: Make a list of questions you want to ask individuals. Think about the things you really want to know about them, their career path, the industry, and company or job type.

3. Wrap it up gracefully
Admittedly, I used to use the old excusing myself to the restroom or grab another drink tricks. The problem is, most people do too. Simplicity is key. Begin your wrap-up when someone has finished their story with a simple “I want to be mindful of your time, can I have one of your business cards so we can schedule at time to talk more in the future. Thank you so much! ” And be sure to follow-up!

TIP: write what was memorable about the conversation and your next steps on their business card so your follow-up is personal and meaningful

4. Treat Yourself
As an introvert, I definitely have to recharge my batteries with some alone time. Most of the time it is something free or inexpensive, like a cup of frozen yogurt, a nap, bubble bath, walking outside or a Pixar movie. Anything that will allow my body and mind to relax and let go.

Let’s hear from you? What are some strategies you find helpful to make networking feel less draining?