For some, networking simply comes naturally while for others it’s a necessary evil. While we can agree that creating meaningful connections with others is vital to business, it doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s not always easy. Which begs the question: What about networking makes it scary? And how can we get over the fear of networking?
The answer to the first question is simple, networking makes us vulnerable. It forces us to put ourselves out there. And I mean really out there. But we need to remind ourselves that everyone networking has a common goal - to make quality connections to grow their business. And most of them are just as nervous as you! As you meet more people you will find that the reward of the relationships you’re creating greatly outweigh the fears associated with networking.
The second question – how can you get over the fear of networking - deserves most of our focus. Here are six tips that I have personally learned and used in the past two years to help boost my confidence and start building meaningful business relationships.
1. Have a goal in mind
Defining your goal prior to attending a networking event is key. Taking the time to simply jot down a list of objectives will ensure that you get to most out of the experience. For example, how many people are you looking to meet? What businesses will be attending that you’d like to connect with?
Once you’ve answered these questions, vow to yourself not to leave the event until you’ve met your objective. Remember that the goal is to make quality connections, not to form a collection of random business cards in order to meet your goal.
2. Go early
When it comes to networking, being fashionably late is not the way to go. In fact, being one of the early birds (or just on time) will position you as someone other people will come and talk to. This will also help you avoid the awkward task of breaking into pre-existing conversations. Being early also positions you to get the most out of the event. Use your time wisely!
3. Utilize the good ol’ fashioned buddy system
Having a buddy to tag-team networking events with is a much-added bonus. This allows you to introduce each other to people and to brag each other up. A networking buddy can serve as the ultimate confidence booster as they ease the pressure of talking about yourself. This is also the perfect opportunity to combine your inner circles. Perhaps there are people you know at the networking event that you’d like to introduce your buddy to and vice versa.
This individual doesn’t have to be your BFF. They can simply be someone you met early on at the networking event and decide to walk around together. Just be sure to choose an individual you feel comfortable around and who values your work. Be sure to take a few minutes to prep each other on how to effectively introduce you. Avoiding awkward mistakes is definitely a high priority!
4. Dress to impress (and for functionality)
The key to a successful networking experience is being approachable and your outer appearance is often an indicator of your approachability. Dress up, bring business cards, and be sure to wear your best accessory— your smile!
While you want to look good, be sure your outfit is functional. Fumbling with food, purses, and notebooks can make you feel awkward. Simplify things by having a pocket for business cards and always having your right hand free, ready to shake hands.
5. Take the focus off yourself
While this next tip may sound a bit silly at first, there is an aspect to networking that must be selfless. Smile, ask questions, and listen! People will enjoy talking with you if they feel like their thoughts, opinions, and stories are genuinely heard and valued.
When you do talk about your business, be concise, focused and share solutions that are relevant to the person you are talking with. Spend more time learning about their business, the problems they face and their goals. Being a quality listener will pay off in the long run.
6. Remember this is how you grow your business (and everyone else is a bit nervous too)
Building relationships is how you grow your business. Networking isn’t so much about trying to sell your services, but about making beneficial professional connections that you can grow from and that also allow you to add value to the lives of others.
It’s also important to remember that you’re not the only one who’s a little bit weary when standing in a room full of strangers. Nerves are only natural and everyone experiences that tinge of fear when it comes to putting themselves out there. But remember, the fear doesn’t have to hinder your ability to grow your business.
Is networking a little scary?—Yes, being vulnerable and putting yourself out there is nerve-wracking. Yet, are there ways to make networking less fearsome? Absolutely! Be sure to keep these tips in mind when attending your next networking event. Remember to define your goals, be an early bird, take your buddy, dress nicely, smile, be genuine, listen, and most of all have fun!
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