I know what it means to be shy and very uncomfortable at networking events. While I can speak to a standing-room-only crowd of whatever size and be perfectly calm, I would rather have root canal than go to a networking event where I do not know anyone and have to introduce myself to strangers. But while I still don’t enjoy it, I’m now good at it because of practice. And what I have practiced are the following steps which work:
First, be the first to arrive. Someone will always comes over and speak with you.
Second, go over and introduce yourself to the organizer. (It’s easy when you arrive early.) They will not want to spend a lot of time with you and will almost always introduce you (hand you off!) to someone else.
Third, look for someone like you. They are easy to spot. They are standing in a corner alone or looking out the window. They want someone to come over to them and will be grateful.
Fourth, set a goal for yourself. For example, my first goal was to get five business cards. I could not leave the event, the first I ever attended, without collecting five cards. It took me three hours! The second time it was 10 cards. Then it continued to be 10 until one day I realized I had over 20. Now I don’t count anymore.
Fifth, follow-up with the people you meet. Get to know them. Networking is building relationships, not exchanging business cards. When you start forming real relationships, you will know that networking is worthwhile and, despite the discomfort, you can get positive results. There is no better cure for shyness than success.