You’re not the only one who gets a little twinge in your gut when you think about networking.
Some people find it anxiety-provoking to strike up conversations with strangers. For introverts, the exercise can be particularly draining.
But there’s real value in putting on some professional clothes, taking a deep breath and getting yourself to such an event. You never know who you might meet, even when you least expect it. You could come away with nothing more than a stack of business cards, sure—but you might meet a new mentor, a new client, or even a professional plumber who can finally help you with that leaky faucet…and who in turn hires you to help with his accounting or marketing program. Life is funny like that.
So let’s talk about a few ways to make networking less scary:
- Realize that most everyone else is a little nervous, too. Most people feel exactly the same as you; you can find reassurance and something to laugh about in your shared awkwardness. Those who aren’t nervous either have a chip missing, or they’ve simply practiced more. Which brings us to our next point.
- Do it more. One surefire way to make networking less scary is to do it more often. You may still get that twinge in your gut before you go, but you’ll remember that the last three times you went to an event, it turned out just fine or even great.
- Think about ways to keep your hands free for handshakes while keeping business cards at the ready. And don’t forget to consider where you’ll put the cards you receive. You can make networking less scary simply by wearing something with pockets. Don’t forget to prepare a short introduction about yourself as well. Be able to articulate what you do—or hope to do—in 60 seconds or less. There’s time to elaborate later.
- Swing the spotlight to someone else. All eyes aren’t necessarily on you! Slow down and listen. Give the other person space to talk—you may find you don’t need to come up with much to say. Give people space to approach you—no need to rush right up to everyone. Look around and absorb the situation. You’ll feel calm and look confident if you focus on others rather than yourself.
- Go a little deeper. As this article from Entrepreneur magazine describes, networking isn’t just about collecting business cards and sharing your bio, though that’s typically the launching point for most conversations. Decide that you want to really discover whether this person might help you reach your goals…or how you might help them reach theirs. Operating from a mindset of friendship and service can make networking less scary and more productive.
Networking gets a bad rap. And when it’s set up like a cross between speed dating and Shark Tank, who wouldn’t be a little leery of sticking his toe in the water? But take our tips and turn down the intimidation factor. You might find a friend, a plumber or a whole new career.
Photo by jesadaphorn, freedigitalphotos.net.