Networking: How to feel less overwhelmed
When it comes to the word ‘networking’, it can stir many emotions. Don’t get me wrong, it can be an amazing way to develop and grow your business, and make new contacts. But let’s talk about the elephant in the room; for many people, walking into an event full of strangers can be scary. Really scary.
So here are 4 ways strategies and tools to use when you next puck up the courage to go to a local networking event.
1. Acknowledge the fear
As an introvert myself, real life networking can make me feel awkward. So before I go, I acknowledge that yes, there may be moments when I feel uncomfortable. But it won’t last forever. I acknowledge that I may feel like ‘Billy-no-mates’. But there will be people who recognise those ‘I’m just standing here looking like an idiot’ signs and invite me into a conversation. I acknowledge I am really bad at putting names to faces. Blessed be the name badge. And if that fails, just be honest and say ‘ I’m terrible at remembering names, can you remind me of yours?’. I also acknowledge, that networking isn’t a skill we are taught. Rather it’s a real life skill you pick up along the way, and make your own.
2. Not all networking is created equally
There are many different styles and formats. Which is a good and bad thing. The bad part, is when you are new, you have to try lots of events, so that you can work out which ones suits you. The reasons why people go to networking events vary. There is no right or wrong approach, just be honest with yourself. Also, know that those reasons may vary from month to month or group to group. By being clear on this, it will help you to understand, why do you want to network and what do you want to get out of it? Which then allows you to determine if a particular event has been successful. Some networking groups can be very sales driven, where it is expected to make referrals. Other groups are focused on knowledge sharing. Others on peer-to-peer mentoring. Others are focus on a mixture of social and business. Pick the style that suits you.
3. Alternatives and conversational hooks
The hardest part, for many, is actually starting a conversation with a stranger. So, even if it’s not your thing, get your small talk on. Think of different ways to ask some of the standard questions like ‘What do you do?’, ‘How is business going’. The same way parents are now encourage to ask their kids better questions, as oppose to ‘How was your day at school’. By asking a question in a different way, or by asking an interesting question, it can help the conversation feel, well, more interesting. And if you are asked a standard question, then you can expand your answer to give a conversational hook. Share an additional non-business piece of information that the other person can hook into. It’s easy to add a ‘and I spend my spare time running/ volunteering/etc’. By doing this, it allows the conversation to expand. It gives the other person more opportunities to find a point of interest. It allows the conversation to flow. It allows you to build connections.
4. You are not the only one
Remember that if you are scared to enter an event filled with strangers. You. Are. Not. Alone. Many others also feel this way. If you are new to networking, keep at it. It will get easier. Keep going to events and finding which ones suit you. Once you get past your fear, you can start to make real connections to people. Once you get past your fear, you can start to identify which events offer the support and opportunities you want. Once you get past your fear, you can start to see which networking communities are aligned with your way of doing business.
How to get started
I suggest going to a well-run event, such as ‘meet the chamber’. There is a small group of people by the entrance to show you the ropes. And dotted around the room are ambassadors to help you if you feel lost at any point. Why not come along to the next event, it would be great to see you.
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