Networking Advice for People Who Feel Awkward Approaching Other People

Rachel SklarLucky for women in tech and new media, Rachel Sklar is not known for being reticent. Once, she even publicly confronted Graydon Carter, editor-in-chief of “Vanity Fair,” about publishing an article that claimed that women aren’t funny.

“I wasn’t as articulate as I would have wanted, but I said my piece and stood my ground,” says Sklar, co-founder of non-profit Change the Ratio and membership organization Theli.st (which both seek to increase women’s access to career opportunities). She adds that she then went home and cried.

She survived, her career and reputation intact, of course, and she even made some new like-minded connections. Speaking up is in her DNA, and for her, talking to strangers, even high-octane personalities, comes easy. That’s probably why the “New York Times” once called her “the yenta” of women in tech—she seems to know everyone and likes to help them. Here, her networking tips for newbies and self-conscious types.

#1. Do your homework.

“Research a person before you seek her out,” Sklar says. “Don’t ask questions you could have known with a simple Google or LinkedIn search, and don’t make it her job to do all the talking. Know what you want to learn from her.”

#2. Come with a good attitude.

“If you think networking is a chore, and show it, people are not going to respond to you the way you want them to. On the other hand, you don’t want to be fake, which is also off-putting. Try to strike a balance where you are positive and authentic.”

#3. Think of ways you can be useful to the other person.

“Don’t be nakedly needy or greedy with your requests. A woman once said to me that she’d love to sit down with me and pick my brain for ways I could help her business…At the very least, if you go up to a speaker after hearing her talk at the Conference, you could mention that you tweeted what she said to help spread the word about her message or you could show her a really flattering photo you took of her and ask if she’d like you to email it to her.”

#4. Say that you would love to stay in touch.

“It’s common for people to say that they’d love to grab coffee sometime, which is why you shouldn’t say it, too. At a big event, someone in high demand is going to think, ‘I don’t have time for all this coffee.’ Instead, make the request when you write her later—and offer to bring the coffee to her.”

#5. If networking just isn’t your thing, befriend someone who enjoys it.

“The people who are best at networking are the ones who find it fun. So if you are just too uncomfortable approaching strangers, reach out to someone who seems to be a hub, like the organizer of events for your industry. And then support her when she sends out e-blasts for help or information. That way, she’ll start to know—and appreciate—you and make sure you’re plugged into her network.”


▶ Read more from the November 2016 newsletter.