How many times have you been to a networking event and been afraid to talk to 99% of the people?
Even outgoing people sometimes feel out of place or get the wrong vibe from the crowd. I have solved the problem with a simple process:
Setting a goal.
I always decide how many business cards I want to leave the event with, based on the number of people attending. If I only have 9 cards and I set a goal of 10, my fears disappear and I find it so much easier to approach a person and strike up a conversation.
I recently attended a Gold Coast Venture Capital Association (GCVCA) event in Boca Raton, FL and felt a little hesistant at first. I had no wingman, I was clearly the youngest in the room and the elephant in the room was obvious - 97% of the people were white males. Most minorities can feel awkward at times like this because you instictively feel that you should interact with the people you most quickly identify with.
You scope out the room, look at the way people dress, their mannerisms, their ethnicity, listen for accents (I am Jamaican) and start narrowing down.
Luckily I grew up in Jamaica so race has never been what I see first, even though being in America has had some negative effect in that regard.
My parents taught me that someone's attitude and intellectual pursuits are more likely to reflect whether or not I would get along with them than their skin colour, age or social background. I headed for the sharpest dressed people first (I was dressed in a dark blue suit, white-collar blue shirt with cufflinks and a yellow tie).
That night I met 3 GCVCA board members, 1 potential investor and a Jamaican who runs a strategic advisory firm. The Jamaican loved my elevator pitch and introduced me to 5 more people. I had no idea he was Jamaican when I approached him, he just looked sharp, which for me means that you mean business because I was taught to "dress for success". 1 week later he called me.
He had spoken to a client who was looking for ventures to invest in and wanted to get our executive summary and business plan because the client was interested in investing up to $500k if the numbers and business made sense to them. (I have also learnt that not people understand what we are trying build so not everyone is actually a good fit from an investor standpoint).
That contact has been helping us finetune the plan and financial projections at no cost because he loves our drive and was really grabbed by our pitch.
If I had not set that goal of 15 cards for that night, I could very well never have approached him and benefitted from all of this.
Goal-setting in life is always good so use it to improve your networking skills, especially if you are a shy person.
p.s. No entrepreneur should remain shy forever.
You can read more stories and advice on my blog at Mullingsbrothers.blogspot.com