Networking can be an extremely intimidating task. The moment you enter the room your nerves are unusually out of whack, you suddenly lose all confidence, and you somehow get tongue tied the second a stranger asks what it is you do. Everyone seems to know each other. You can see the success gleaming in their eyes that of course matches their insanely polished look. You feel like a little fish in a very big pond and find yourself looking at your watch counting down to the very minute you can exit the building. Is it true or untrue?
Now you may be the business professional with the bright smile and confident look, but chances are, you were a little fish at some point. And for all you little fishes out there, with time, practice, and a few suggestions you can get to where you want to be.
Consider these strategies before your next event to help ease the nerves:
Attend With a Purpose
Why are you attending the event? Is it to get your name out there or meet a recent client’s referral? Maybe you would like to have an in-depth conversation with 4 prospects you feel good about leaving your business card with. Remember why it is that you are at the event and say to yourself that you will not leave until you have accomplished your mission.
The Buddy System
You have two options. You can either; “divide and conquer” or take the “safety in numbers” approach. Divide and conquer allows you to meet more people with hopes to find a few prospects, yet is extremely scary when you go at it alone. So use your safety net. Teaming up with your co-worker creates a safe conversational atmosphere. Just make sure you position yourselves openly so that others feel invited to join the conversation. Standing with your backs to the crowd while chit-chatting with one-another completely defeats the purpose of attending the networking event.
Know what kind of networking event you are attending. Networking events can often attract hundreds of people and others are set up for a smaller focus group. Large events typically serve cocktails, which yes, does help break the ice, but is also a breeding ground for those who love free alcohol and a night out. It might take you talking to 30 people before you get to the one who is an actual prospect. A smaller networking group could be more ideal if you have a specific goal in mind. Do your research to find a networking group that is right for you. Some groups will only allow one person from a specific industry to join to avoid competition.
Put Yourself Out There
Do not be afraid to strike up a conversation. Begin by introducing yourself. Throw in a complement but keep it professional. Most people love to talk about themselves so ask open ended questions. Use a phrase like “Tell me a little more about…” Listen to what the other person has to say because that will likely pose further conversational questions. If the person seems unresponsive, take the hint and move on.
The more you smile the more approachable you look. Smiling builds confidence and helps maintain encouragement. Don’t be a hermit. A friendly, outgoing personality will get you much further by the end of the night.