I’m an entrepreneur, I love a podium and a microphone, but I hate cocktail parties. When I was at business school and they talked about networking, I shuddered. I wanted to go home to my wife and kids. If it takes networking to be successful, I decided, then I’d just be less successful.

Things got better. I discovered deep network, as in working with people you like, having common interests.

But I still hate cocktail parties. And standing and making small talk with people I don’t know.

So as you might imagine, this title caught my eye immediately: Toolkit–Networking for the Shy Entrepreneur. It was on The New York Times site, a piece by Paul Brown, who does a series of “toolkits” for small business.

It seems like good advice, overall. Don’t try to sell anything; just make friends. Keep your business objective in mind. And then these three tips for the cocktail party or its equivalent (he’s quoting John Berard, who runs Credible Context):

  1. Break the ice by talking about what is going on around you. “Every event offers something–a display, a presentation or cause–that can be a stress-free way to make a connection.”
  2. Force yourself. “Networking in person requires proximity, which can be uncomfortable to the shy person. Getting in a line–to the bar, the buffet or the book signing–is a natural way to overcome that hurdle. The wine at the bar, the food at the buffet and the author’s high school picture on the book jacket are all ways to take advantage of what’s going on.”
  3. Prepare questions to ask people you are sure to encounter at the event. It doesn’t really matter what you ask, as long as it is somehow relevant. Just the act of asking will start a conversation.

I find that very useful. And as a sometimes introvert, I liked this ending, quoting John May of Business Pundit:

“Introverts are intuitive and analytical. Use that skill.” After you have been networking for a while, ask, “What is working? What isn’t? Where do you get the most bang for your buck?”

The Cocktail Party
Flickr cc photo by dcafe

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.