Welcome to the world of network-o-phobics (I need to check if the term actually exists). Trust me you are not alone. Do you remember your first day behind the wheel? How scary was that? How about now? The key to acquiring any new skill in life is practice, constant practice, so the best way to become better at networking is by actually networking. I realize this will be difficult in the beginning but follow the 3Ds (devotion, discipline, and dedication) and you will network your way to success very soon.
You may also consider the following tips:
* Start from your comfort zone: Start your networking efforts with individuals you are already familiar with. Once you acquire some confidence, ask these individuals to introduce you to others in their network. Don't stop here. Challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone once you have overcome the initial reluctance.
* Write: If you are -- or can become -- an expert at something, write for publications with matching themes. Blogs and ezines are excellent avenues for getting published. If you do this consistently, networking opportunities will come knocking at your door.
* Use technology: Use online networking tools such as linkedin.com to connect with people virtually.
* Invest in your professional development: Continuing education, workshops, seminars, conferences -- all of these are excellent networking platforms that provide a comfortable starting point for networking.
* Prepare for small talk to overcome what-if-I-don't-know-what-to-say jitters.
* Learn from others: Join a networking group and learn from those who have been through the process themselves. This will not only shorten your learning curve but will also help build your confidence.
* Work with a mentor: Ask someone from your professional association to mentor you into the art of networking. Start with introductions to professionals known to the mentor.