How to fight your networking fears in 4 fail-safe steps
Does networking fill you with dread? Does your mind freeze whilst your palms sweat..? Then these failsafe tips are our gift to you!
We all fear rejection – it’s human nature! So, it’s no wonder we fear networking…
We envy the confident, strutting peacocks – they strike up conversations easily and weirdly seem to have fun at networking events (outrageous!). Maybe, just maybe, they were once unsure and nervous like you…? The difference is that they’ve had a lot of practice. Every skill takes practice – networking is no exception.
Networking is NOT a time for your ‘hard sell’. If people ask what you do then, of course, tell them. But marching up to someone and immediately blurting out your obviously-rehearsed ‘elevator pitch’, isn’t the best way.
Here are our tried and tested tips to fight your networking fears.
How to prepare
First impressions matter
It’s tricky knowing what to wear, but a great way to approach your outfit is ‘What would I wear if I were CEO of my own company?’. Yes, be professional, but there’s no need to be uptight and stuffy.
Wear something that makes you stand out, but don’t be ostentatious. Wear something small but memorable that helps your new contacts remember you. Whether it’s a jazzy tie, scarf, brooch or necklace, it also makes a great conversation starter…!
Find out who’s going
If there’s a publicised attendee list, make sure you research names and company backgrounds. Create a list of people you definitely want to meet and research any speakers, as well as the company hosting the event. You can then congratulate them on any awards, recent press coverage or company news.
Be the knowledgeable one
Research a few interesting items of recent industry news, or find out about relevant future events that will bring value to other attendees. Have a few topical TED Talks or industry reports in the back of your mind, ready to recommend to your fellow networkers. Not only are these great conversation topics, but sending a link or article gives you a reason to email your new contact post-event.
Who to talk to
Approaching groups can be intimidating. You end up doing that embarrassing ‘trying to get into the group’ dance, and it’s hard to introduce yourself if they’re deep in conversation.
Find someone else looking uncomfortably nervous and alone. They’re probably feeling just as awkward as you and relieved that someone has approached them! If there’s a group you really want to join, then listen for a few minutes, take your chance when there’s a slight break in conversation to get the hang of what they’re discussing, then introduce yourself.
How to start the conversation
When you meet people, make a point to repeat their name several times back to them during your first few sentences. Get it in your memory. If you’re terrible with names, pick a feature that rhythms with, or starts with the same letter as their name (Bowtie Bob, Scarf Sunil etc.) – it works.
As we said at the start, networking is not about you.
It seems strange, but boasting about yourself makes people instantly switch off. Fact: we’re all only truly interested in ourselves. Every person you meet is subconsciously asking you, What’s in it for ME?!
Steer away from asking ‘What do you do?’.
It’s a ‘closed question’ with a finite answer, which reduces people to their job title and company, rather than providing interesting information to help to develop a conversation. Instead, pick some of these as conversation starters:
- “I always feel a bit awkward at the start of networking events – are you here on your own?”
- “What are you hoping to learn/who do you hope to meet/are there any particular seminars that you’re looking forward to?”
- “How did you hear about the event – have you been before?” People love to feel valued and like an expert! Don’t be afraid to ask for advice: “Hi, I’ve never been to this event before. You look like you know your way around. Are there any particular exhibits/stands/sessions/talks you would recommend?”
- “Do you know anyone else here? Is there anyone you think is really useful for me to meet as I’d like to learn more about XYZ…?”
- (while at the coffee stand) “Oooo – I really need some coffee to start the day – networking’s always easier if you’re caffeinated…!” OK, it’s not the most sophisticated conversation starter, but it’s an ice-breaker and it does works.
It’s about giving, not taking. Give something (one of your handy bit of information, or maybe a connection to someone else), and you’ll be remembered. Introduce others and create connections. Really listen with the intention to learn about the other person, and you’ll soon forget your nerves.
How to end a networking conversation!
You’ve memorised their name, so introduce them to someone else (using their name). “I’ve just met Samuel and I’d love to introduce you two. I’m going to head off while you chat and see who else I can connect with”.
The point of networking is to start a conversation that you can follow-up on after the event. So make each conversation short (5-10 minutes max). If you think they’re a useful contact, get out your calendar and decide a convenient time for you both to meet for an informal coffee chat.
Sometimes you’ll find yourself speaking to a ‘cling-on’. They’re hard to get rid of but you want to make sure you speak to as many valuable people as possible.
Be polite but firm:
- “It’s been great talking to you, but I want to catch up with a few other people. Hopefully, we can see each other again before the end of the event”
- “Well, we’re both here to network and meets lots of people, so it’s been great to talk but I won’t take up any more of your time. I’m going to go and find some other people to meet and I’ll be sure to introduce you if I find anyone I think you’d enjoy meeting!”
If all else fails, excuse yourself saying that you need to head to the loo… and then find someone else to talk to when you emerge.
View networking as a chance to meet new people, learn from them, and see how you can help them. It should be an exciting and interesting opportunity, not a pressured competition to gather as many business cards as possible.
And, guess what, you’ll even start to enjoy it.
If you’re still feeling nervous, then don’t worry – we LOVE networking!
Get in touch to see how we can help to connect you with the people you want to speak to.
…And we might even come along with you to your next networking event.