How many people do you know that say they love to network? Many times you’ll hear exactly the opposite being stated, on the spectrum of dislike from “I h-a-a-ate it; I don’t do it” to “It’s not my favorite thing” to “I do, I like it; it’s fun to meet new people, and connect.” I’ve heard it all, and then some. If networking ranks lower on your list of favorite things to do, I know where you’re coming from, because I used to not like it so much myself.
My own attitude has changed over time, and now I actually enjoy it, and – take a deep breath – you, too, can learn to like it. Here are a few tips to help you on your way:
For the absolutely terrified, going to an event where there will be a seemingly overwhelming crowd of unfamiliar faces is often not an option. But, going with someone does take off the edge. Being assured of knowing at least one person in the building with whom you can talk and not feel too out-of-place can make the whole thing more manageable, right? If there is an event you think you want to attend, ask a business person you know if they, too, would like to attend the event. Although it’s not ideal to limit your interactions to that particular person, at least it’s a start.
Dress for Confidence
You know that outfit that makes you feel like you own the place? That’s the one you want to wear. Knowing that you don’t need to worry about how you look will already make you feel more confident. This also means that you dress like your audience and appropriate for the event. If in doubt, wear black and white. Keep it simple, and make sure you feel comfortable.
Change Your Intent
We go to networking events to connect with people and talk about our business, so it’s easy to get too caught up and have expectations of “landing a prospect.” Too much pressure and untimely. Change your expectation instead to “Let’s see who’s there; I just want to meet people, because you never know…” Doesn’t that remove some pressure already? Networking is at the beginning of the relationship-building continuum. All you are doing at this time is to create an awareness of your services by letting others know what you are offering, so they know you and your business exist.
Let the Other Person Speak
Isn’t it true that some of us feel uncomfortable when we think we are at the center of attention? Turn the attention onto the other person instead. Ask him or her questions beyond the initial “What do you do?” Questions, like “Who is an ideal client for you?” or “How do you find your clients?” “What can you tell me about your business that I can relay to people I know that might be in the market for your service?” The other person will appreciate that you made the first move. And they may also welcome the opportunity of being able to speak about their business.
Of course, it is a good idea to have answers to these same questions for your own business as well. Having practiced your answers in advance will make you feel prepared and also boost your confidence. Literally, I would say, write the answers out on a piece of paper. Practice the delivery, so you don’t sound stilted. Speak in plain English – not industry jargon – because the other person may not use that same vocabulary. Being prepared allows you to confidently speak about your business. It’s an opportunity to make a good first impression and instill a sense of your competence.
If the opportunity presents itself and you find you have some overlap you can weave that into the conversation. Do you have a contact in common? Do you offer a complementary service for the other person’s clientele? Do you already know someone whom you could refer to your conversation partner? It’s all about having conversations and connecting.
Have an Exit Strategy
Are you concerned that you’ll be stuck in a conversation that does not seem useful? When you get the sense that you’ve reached a point where you want to move on, simply ask to exchange business cards. Then you can also say something along the lines of “That was very interesting and it was nice meeting you. I’m glad that I now know what you do, and I’ll keep your business in mind. Thank you for the conversation.”
Attending a networking event can feel like having to go to the dentist: It’s not your favorite thing, but you make yourself go, because you know it’s good to keep your teeth in good health. Your business requires the same kind of attention to keep growing, and networking is part of the marketing mix.
The sooner you get comfortable with networking, the faster you’ll be on your way to making the connections necessary to building your business and supporting its continued growth.
Of course, if you find you could benefit from additional help, you can also hire a coach with whom you can practice your presentation and role-play conversations; receiving constructive feedback, support and encouragement will surely lead to your being more confident over time.
In essence, it’s all about becoming more comfortable having conversations with people you don’t know.
Would you agree, you do know your comfort level will increase with practice? Find a way to make it happen!