By Adela Belin
Networking – the word alone can give you the shudders. The thought of approaching new people, making small talk and worse still, trying to impress them sounds exhausting and is definitely not your idea of a good evening, is it?
You have heard it all about how networking is such as essential aspect of climbing the career ladder or growing your business, but you can never seem to go out there and give it a shot. While the thought of attending crowded networking events may not excite you, that does not mean you cannot play on your strengths and approach it in your own way.
So, the next time you are invited to a networking event, seize that opportunity and walk in there with these simple tips in mind.
If you are shy or suffer from social anxiety, the best way to approach networking events is to go well-prepared. Know what you want to achieve from that event and try to get access to the list of attendees beforehand.
Instead of trying to speak to everyone, focus on those who can help you achieve your professional goals. The idea is not to walk out with multiple business cards but to make valuable contacts by the end of it.
Be ready with an introduction on yourself and ice-breaker questions to warm up and enter engaging conversations. Thanks to social media, you can also look up the attendees you wish to speak to in advance and read up on them. This will help you in building context during your interactions.
Approaching people with the aim to impress them never ends well because you are constantly under the pressure to say something intellectual or funny. In the whole process of appearing to be a certain way, you tend to get more awkward.
From wearing the clothes you are comfortable in to being authentic in your answers – be yourself in every aspect because only then can you bring out the best in you. After all, nothing is more off-putting than pretentiousness. So, relax and just be yourself – it is that simple.
However intimidated you feel, remember to walk into that networking event with a smile on your face. You will be surprised to know the power it has!
Approaching someone with a wide smile is the best way to start a conversation because you tend to appear more interested, welcoming and friendly. Don’t shy away from making eye contact with the people in the crowd and if ever your eyes meet with anyone – flash a smile, it always works.
You may not love talking, but remember that people do so the best way to drive conversations is to ask questions. Have a set of questions ready beforehand if need be.
No, we are not talking about asking empty questions for the sake of it, we are referring to insightful and relevant questions that add value to the conversation. Asking intelligent questions also says a lot about your personality – it reflects genuine interest and shows that you have done your research.
If you thought you are expected to do all the talking in networking events, you are mistaken. An important aspect of effective networking is also the ability to be an attentive listener.
Well, the good news is that most introverts are blessed with great listening skills and in a world where people can’t stop talking, it really is a vital strength to have.
So, instead of wondering what to ask or say next while the other person is talking, be mentally present and be invested in that conversation. It shows in your demeanor and helps in building long-term relations with people.
Take a Friend
If it is one of your first networking events, it is a good idea to take a friend along. That way, you aren’t as daunted because having a familiar face around always helps. It’s even better if your friend is from the similar industry and is more comfortable with networking than you are.
So, take someone along and let him/her initiate conversations and you can take it from there. This gives you the much-needed practice and boosts your confidence in the process.
Social media sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter have opened up avenues for online networking. So, if you are someone who hates walking up to complete strangers and striking conversations, online networking is definitely for you. It lets you reach out to people you want to connect with and is not even half as stressful.
That said, don’t drop the ball on the traditional, face-to-face networking events as they help you build stronger and more meaningful long-lasting connections. A great way to approach this is to start the conversation online and, take it offline and schedule a meeting when you are more comfortable.
Most importantly, remember to follow up and stay in touch with your contacts. Remember that networking is just the first step – you need to effectively follow up with the people you have met through e-mail or LinkedIn in order to develop that relation.
So, even though networking might not come naturally to you, you must challenge yourself and not let your anxieties and insecurities prevent you from meeting new people and building connections. With practice and confidence, you are sure to overcome these fears and warm up to the idea of networking.