I usually pin myself as a social extrovert unafraid to spark up a random conversation with a stranger. My friends say I have solid intuition and gut instinct when it comes to reading and understanding people. So, networking should be one of my strengths, right? Wrong. I’m terrified of it. Sure, I can talk to people, but my biggest challenge with attending an event is the ability to make it actionable, achieving a valuable outcome. But I decided to stop pitying myself and refocus my energy to become a better networker. Here are a few tips I’ve learned and put into practice recently.

DO rethink your networking approach.

I stopped thinking about networking within the confines of big, trendy events and the idea that they will directly result in immediate business opportunities. I don’t know if I’ll ever nail networking in a big room, so instead, I shifted my focus toward smaller, more personal networking opportunities through my own network of friends and business colleagues. I’m having more coffee and drink dates with peers outside of my industry. We talk about our challenges, career ambitions and projects we are working on. My goal is to always walk away with one new fun fact or interesting insight about an industry, company or new life hack.

DON’T look at every connection as a business lead.

It would be great if every coffee date led to a potential new business opportunity, but it’s not a realistic mindset. The minute I stopped putting the pressure on about business development, the easier I found it was to reach out to peers, or even random industry folks for a meeting. Start thinking about other aspects of your job or career that connections can support. Is your company hiring? Are you in search of an SEO partner? Do you need to learn more about lead scoring? Every conversation can result in a positive outcome if your expectations are clear.

DON’T ask someone to “pick their brain.”

We’ve all asked “can I pick your brain” when we want insights or feedback from someone. But one of my industry contacts recently told me that the statement is a waste of time and she often ignores inquiries that start with it. If you want to meet with someone outside of your personal network, the best way to get on their radar is to set a clear objective as to why you want to speak with them (a little ego boost in the intro doesn’t hurt either) and how they can help you. Propose at least three specific questions based on the contact’s background and expertise. The clearer and more detailed you are with your objectives, the better the outcome of the conversation.

DO prep for your meeting.

If you’ve set up your networking meeting correctly, you set a clear goal for the conversation and list of questions you need answered. However, don’t waste the opportunity to get to know the contact on a personal level as well. HubSpot recently released a list of conversation starters for every possible scenario. A deeper level of conversation with your contact might lead to a more fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship.

DON’T forget to follow up and stay in touch.

This one is easy but often overlooked. It’s important to follow up with the contact after your initial meeting with a simple thank you or next step. Keep in touch with your contact every couple of months to stay top of mind. It’s easy to send a short email, or comment on one of their LinkedIn posts. You never know when they might need to use your expertise, or want to connect you with one of their industry contacts.

I’m still not in love with the idea of networking, but I’m pushing myself to do it more, and it’s getting easier. I remind myself that we are all human and genuinely want to help each other succeed, so it’s OK to just go for it.

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