Making connections and learning to network is a vital part of any self-development process. As part of the hero’s journey, it’s necessary to encounter other people who could play an essential role in your growth – which is where networking comes in. Whether you are trying to increase the number of clients you have, are pushing for a promotion at work, or even just looking to create stronger, better relationships with those that can help you, a little networking with the right people can go a long way.
The trouble is, not everyone is comfortable with the idea, and the prospect of standing in a roomful of strangers making small talk is a nightmare for many. There are some who love it, of course, and to whom networking is a natural act – and it’s these people who tend to get ahead in life, even if they are less well-equipped or skilled than their introverted rivals.
It’s one of those things in life that isn’t fair, but nothing is going to change soon. In short, you have to overcome your fear of networking and get out there and make a noise – so here are some ideas for you to get started.
It’s OK to do a little research on the attendees of a particular event to find out who they are and what they do. Take a look and see what you can find out about your prospective contacts, to ensure that there is a valid reason for attending, whether for business or self-development reasons. LinkedIn is the ideal place for this, and there are plenty of event sites that include listings of attendees and guest speakers. You might even find that setting up an event group can help you meet people online before you arrive.
Sharpen up your small talk
Small talk doesn’t come naturally to most people, but it’s a learned skill – anyone can do it if they practice enough. It’s a good idea to catch up on some industry news before you go to a business event, and also some general stories from the newspaper. It’s advisable to keep politics, religion and other potentially awkward subjects off the table when you meet people for the first time, so look around for five or six other topics you can use as conversation starters.
The open-ended technique
OK, so you have built up enough confidence to start some conversations. But, all you ever get are blunt ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, which leaves you feeling even more uncomfortable than you were before. So, practice asking open-ended rather than closed questions. Give people a chance to expand on answers, and you will find the conversation starts to flow naturally.
It can be overwhelming for shy, nervous, or introverted people to enter a room full of people and get talking straight away. But it doesn’t take much to get involved in a discussion. Look for groups of people talking, rather than individuals – when you approach a group, one of them is more likely to offer their hand and welcome you to the discussion.
Start your own networking night
Starting a networking night yourself is a great way to put yourself front and centre in people’s minds. And it’s a lot easier to deal with your fears, too, as people will come to you to do the talking. Yes, you will be feeling a lot of pressure to arrange a great night, but not all networking events have to be full-on – perhaps you could design a gentler occasion that better suits your personality, and will attract others that feel similar?
Hold a golf event or function
Golf and business go together hand in hand. Many a deal has been struck on the fairways, and having a focus for the event is a great way to take the pressure off you. The great thing about golf is that you get a lot of time to spend with particular individuals, and it’s a more intimate occasion than holding a huge party in a hotel function room. You can buy some golf trophies to add a little competitive spice, and even arrange a regular event which targets different types of attendee or client.
Be wary of alcohol
There is often alcohol at business events, and when you are feeling nervous, it can be tempting to go for some Dutch courage. Try to avoid overindulging, however, as it will backfire. A small drink at the beginning of the event will help you relax a little, but if you overdo it, people will notice – and it can be incredibly damaging to your personal brand.
It’s easy for your nerves to get the better of you when you are attending a networking event. It’s why you see so many serious faces at these types of conferences – everyone is so desperate to make a professional impression that they end up looking cold, stern, and unfriendly. So, be nice – and smile. It will instantly mark you out from the other attendees, and more people will want to come and say hello and find out more about you and your business. Friendliness costs nothing, and there are plenty of people who actively seek out a winning smile at networking events.
One thing you must do at a networking event is to be enthusiastic about what you do and why you are there. This can be harder than you might think, especially if you don’t like praising yourself, or feel worried about discussing problems and issues you might be having. The trouble is, if you don’t wear your passion for what you do on your sleeve, no one else will believe you have it either – and they will instantly lose interest. If you are struggling with this tactic, concentrate on coming up with an enthusiastic one-line pitch which explains what you do and why you are there – and always say it with a smile on your face.
Have a goal
Finally, have a goal in mind before you go to a networking event – something like collecting as many names as possible, or talking to a particular individual whose work in self-development you admire. Doing something like this will force you to get out there and be chatty and communicative. If you set yourself targets in life, you are more likely to achieve them, and networking is no different to anything else. Good luck at your next networking event!
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