How To Build Your Network Without Having a Panic Attack

That time you saw me at that thing? I was screaming on the inside.

There are sooo many things that terrify me about networking events. I agonize over the best way to approach people, and then wuss out and don’t approach anyone. I assume that, when people see me cowering in the corner alone, they instantly know I’m lame. I worry that my obvious social awkwardness is turning off anyone I happen to be speaking with. I berate myself for being so completely boring.

I’m an introvert. Extended social interactions exhaust me and, after awhile, I hit a wall. I also have social anxiety. Drinking helps. My shrink has suggested pot. My Xanax just puts me to sleep.

But as I mentioned yesterday, taking networking from online to in-the-flesh is SO. IMPORTANT. It can solidify a relationship that you’ve developed online, or lead to new, promising connections. Also? Despite the fact that y’all terrify me so damn much, I love meeting new people and forging new connections. It’s just so gratifying to connect with someone who shares my interests… who can act as a sounding board… who I can swap tips and war stories with. And maintaining those relationships can be key in moving a career forward. Remember my post on bringing in new projects without lifting a finger? The bulk of the work that comes to me nowadays is thanks to people I’ve worked with in the past, or people I BS with on Twitter, or people I’ve met at this or that networking event, thanks to several large glasses of wine.

I want you guys to have that, too.

I’ve been reading Networking for People Who Hate Networking, and the book mentions several times that introverts benefit the most from events that combine structure and open time. Which is pretty darn great, because Marian Schembari and I have been masterminding an absolutely EPIC event.

Word Nerd Networking is a speed networking event for publishing professionals, freelance writers, and other word nerds.

Much like speed dating, the structured format of the first hour takes away the pressure inherent in typical networking events, and allows interested parties to connect with established freelance writers and authors, book agents, magazine editors, and other media makers. This will be followed by two hours of casual mingling, during which attendees will be able to build upon those connections they initially sparked with our panel of (OVER 25!) experts. There will also be a raffle. If you come on out for our event, you’ll have the chance to win discounted coaching and consulting services, books, and more! Honestly, I don’t know why you wouldn’t come!

For more information on this event, check out this post Marian did up, and take a look-see at the full list of experts on our event page.

But before you go, I wanted to share with you some additional tips for surviving ANY networking event without a panic attack:

1. Clarify your reason for attending the event, and set up some clear goals. This can give you something to talk about (if your goal, for example, is to learn more about putting together a book proposal), and can also act as a motivator (if your goal, for example, is to swap business cards with at least three people).

2. Develop your elevator pitch. Basically, figure out beforehand how you plan on responding to that seemingly simple question: What do you do? That way, you won’t end up stumbling all over your words (as I typically do, because I’m a spaz). Depending upon the mix of services you offer, your response to this question could possibly change for each networking event you attend. It all depends upon what you’d like to achieve with your networking efforts, and what you’d like to convey to those in attendance.

3. Do some research on the attendees beforehand, if you can. In the case of Word Nerd Networking, you should totally check out our list of experts, accompanied on our event page by short bios. That way, you can prepare for the event in much the same way you’d prepare for a job interview or informational interview: Draw up a list of questions specific to the people you’ll be speaking with.

4. Dress your best. And not only because you want to make a good impression, but also because looking fabulous can make you feel fabulous, and infinitely more confident. I will so be wearing my go-to party dress next Wednesday.

5. Bring a wingman… someone who can keep you from cowering in the corner, and perhaps also pull you into conversations against your will. It can help to choose someone who’s more outgoing than you… someone who feels no compunction about dropping into a conversation mid-stream and taking over. Be careful not to use your wingman as a crutch, though. It won’t help either of you if you end up talking to no one but each other.

6. Drink at least one massive glass of wine. Or maybe that’s just me.

7. Make eye contact with the people around you, and be all smiles. This will make it easier to initiate conversation naturally. Keep in mind that everyone else at the event is just as nervous and self-conscious as you are, and eager to meet new people. Why else would they even be there? Plus, smiling is magic. Just the simple act of smiling can boost your energy and make you feel more confident.

8. Think like a journalist. What does this mean? Basically, ask lots of questions. People looove talking about themselves! Mostly because it’s a topic they’re absolute experts on. And if you continue asking probing, open-ended questions, followed by additional invitations to elaborate, the conversation will flow. And eventually, the person you’re chatting with will (probably… hopefully…) return the favor.

9. Remember to close the deal.  Mention that you’d love to chat more about BLAH BLAH BLAH sometime, or offer to send along some additional info on the latest BLAH BLAH BLAH. Oh, and also? You totally just read a fascinating article about BLAH BLAH BLAH the other day, and you’d just love to send it along! Let’s swap contact info!

10. Finally, don’t feel bad about leaving early. This is an issue that introverts grapple with the most. As I mentioned above, after a certain point, introverts just hit a wall. After which they’re completely useless. So network like hell while your energy is high and, when you feel it ebbing, don’t feel bad about bowing out early. You can even say that you have something else to go to, or a bus to catch, or a sweet, sweet date with your pillow-top mattress to attend. Whatevs. People will understand.

Ooh! Bonus Tip! Do follow up with all those fabulous contacts you made within the next week. Meeting people is only the first step. Maintaining that relationship is the clincher.

Okay. Now that you have absolutely no excuse for not attending Word Nerd Networking, because you’re TOTALLY going to rock the house, REGISTER NOW! You only have one more week to secure your spot, and spots are limited, mostly so that our experts don’t become trampled in a flash mob of word nerds.

<— Plus, don’t you want to meet moi? Look at that happy, smiling face!

Word Nerd Networking, Wednesday, November 17, 7 p.m. – 10 p.m., Galway Hooker, 7 East 36th Street b/w 5th Ave. & Madison Ave.


  1. I love you so hard, it’s insane.

    I also love your tips. Having a wing man in London has been ESSENTIAL. I’m total crap at this stuff but having someone else who also doesn’t know anyone? Once paired we’re like… I don’t know. Chocolate and peanut butter. White on rice. I dunno, things that go well together. Basically, we suck alone, but paired we are an epic master team. So if anyone is nervous about this event (which you shouldn’t be cuz Steph and I are both gonna be drunk), bring a friend! Absolute best way to get the most out of a networking event…

    Hopefully we’ll see you there!!

  2. Marian, I have to correct you: Neither one of you suck alone, you’re just *that* much more awesome when swirled together, like peanut butter and chocolate.

    I know I’ve said this like a million times but I so wish I could join you guys. It makes so much sense to have a networking event for word nerds. I actually wrote a blog post about this a while back, about how writers tend to be introverts but we don’t realize that as writers, we’re equipped with all these tools that apply REALLY well in a networking situation. (shameless plug: )

    I’m still sometimes amazed that, considering how shy I was a few years ago, I basically chose a career that requires me to go up to people and start talking to them for interviews for articles. I’ve always been perfectly okay with that, but in a networking setting the different dynamics just freak me out.

  3. This sounds like an amazing event–I wish I could attend. I have a techie question to ask you about networking. So here’s my thought–I’ve got the Bump app on my iPhone, which makes getting someone’s contact info a breeze–you just touch phones. Now, I don’t think it would work in a professional situation to just ask if the other person had the app, but are there any apps you would suggest downloading before going, ones that might make networking a bit easier?

    • Oh Kristen, I was so hoping that someone else would answer this question, because I’m one of those people who still doesn’t have a smartphone, and so I know nothing of these things. Though I did read about this nifty app recently:

      It could be why I’m still such a sucker for the plain and simple business card. People say they’re obsolete, but I don’t agree!

  4. This post kicks ass. The event is such a fabulous idea. Hope if all goes really well!

  5. What a great event – you are helping so many people. I hope it is successful for everyone (how could it not be?) And I hear ya about hitting the wall…I’m good for about the first half-hour of any social event – sometimes a little more, sometimes as little less – then I want to run for the door!

  6. This sounds great. If I weren’t so far away, I’d sign up and come in a nano. Best of luck.

  7. LOVE this idea. And your tips are amazing! If you didn’t keep insisting that you’re no good at networking, I’d think you were some kind of expert 😉

  8. I always find that it helps to go with the goal to get to know others. I try to ask people questions and see how I can help them. It takes the pressure off me to perform.

  9. Great article. Although college sororities don’t have the reputation they once had, I learned how to work a crowd by having to go through rush and then being on the other side of rush, learning about the “rushees” while I was in college. Besides having the elevator speech (a must!) you need a few elevator questions as well–consider what you would need to know about that person to write a short bio after your talk.
    Wish I could attend your speed networking event.

  10. What a fantastic article! I love it. I love these tips and I love this event you’re doing and I so so wish I could attend. This got me thinking that probably most people at these events feel sort of similarly to you, don’t you think? I know I do. This captured my feelings, at these kinds of events, perfectly.

  11. Something funny about networking for introverts? I mean, just the concept alone? I used to consider myself an introvert: social situations made me anxious, uncomfortable and like a fish out of water.

    Nobody who’s met me in the last 12-18 months would consider me an introvert now: on the contrary, quite the opposite. And yet, I too still feel anxious before a new meeting.

    What’s helped me considerably is approaching conversations at networking events as opportunities to help connect people or helping to solve their problem. I absolutely agree that people like to talk about themselves. I find it helpful to demonstrate the extent to which I was actually listening in this way.

  12. Totally agree, Vera – sororities are way more useful than people think! I don’t know how many times my DG leadership experiences have prepared me for networking or event planning in the real world.

  13. I so wish I could be there next week, because the guest list looks AMAZING! Researching attendees in advance is really key, as is asking people questions to break the ice. I think volunteering to help at an event can also be helpful for introverts, because it gives you a reason to be there and interacting with people. I volunteered with MediaBistro for a couple of years before moving up to host and I met a TON of people in both capacities.


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