If you are new to networking or if the thought
of entering a room full of strangers all by yourself is nothing short of
terrifying, then use something you learned back in grade school:
The Buddy System.
You remember — line up in pairs and don't lose track of your "buddy." Only this time, you get to choose exactly who you will "buddy-up" with. (No more getting stuck with the kid who picks his nose and then tries to deposit his "goods" on your shirt — yeah, you know who you are!)
Just for fun, (because networking stuff CAN be fun), I looked up "buddy system" on Wikipedia.
"The buddy system is a procedure in which
two people, the buddies, operate together as a single unit so that they are
able to monitor and help each other. In adventurous or dangerous activities,
where the buddies are often equals, the main benefit of the system is improved
safety: each may be able to prevent the other becoming a casualty or rescue the
other in a crisis. When this system is used as part of training . . . the less experienced buddy learns
more quickly from close and frequent contact with the experienced buddy than
when operating alone."
For some, networking can be viewed as "an adventurous or dangerous" activity and they may require "rescue in a crisis" so this explanation seems to really ring true.
Nobody said that you have to network on your own. In fact, isn't it more in line with what networking is all about — to help each other out?
So, how do we apply the Buddy System to networking? Simple. Choose a friend or colleague who actually likes networking and is good at it. (or at least has one of the two down — liking or doing) Ask them if you could "tag along" and learn from them as they do their thing.
One caveat here, though. You aren't going to be a silent partner in this activity. You will be an active participant by introducing yourself, telling people about what you do, asking good questions and remembering the names of those you meet. So, prepare yourself before you go.
The purpose of going with a buddy is to alleviate some of the stress and awkwardness that comes from being "all on your own." Your buddy can ease the way by introducing you to her contacts and to those she meets at the event. And, by seeing how it's done, you'll be able to do the same for her in the future!
Use the buddy system to overcome some of your fear of networking and you'll find that networking isn't so scary after all!