If you’re serious about growing your business, at some point you are going to have to do some networking. In spite of all the fuss about online marketing, face to face is still one of the best ways to reach new clients, but if you’re not the most outgoing person in the world, networking can be daunting.
Does the idea of walking into a room full of strangers fill you with fear? You’re not alone. The good news is that you can get comfortable with networking, if you’re willing to take yourself out of your comfort zone and practice.
Here are six tips to help you network with more confidence.
1.Be prepared. A little bit of social anxiety can actually get the blood flowing and help you focus. The problem is more when you have so much anxiety that you can’t face talking to anyone. A bit of practice beforehand can help you go into your networking situation with more confidence. Memorise your USP, think of a list of topics you can use to start conversations and you’ll feel more prepared and less put on the spot when you’re talking to people.
2.Set goals. Having a plan can take some of the anxiety out of a networking event and remind you why you’re there. Create a goal – it’s OK to start small. Maybe you can aim to make one new connection at your first networking event, and once you’ve done that you can leave. As you get better and more confident, you can increase your goal.
3.Position yourself strategically. Hovering nervously by the door is probably not going to help you meet people. Try positioning yourself near the bar or food table instead. This way you’ll be in the path of other people who might be looking for someone to talk to and you have an instant topic of conversation to break the ice. Long drink queues or weird tasting cupcakes are fantastic ice breakers that will have you chatting away in no time.
4.Bring a friend. A wing man or woman can help settle those nerves and means you won’t have to worry about standing around awkwardly without anyone to talk to. Just make sure you both go off on your own once you’re comfortable; after all you’re there to meet new people, not hang out with the ones you already know.
5.Get there early. If you’re not feeling confident, arriving while everyone else is getting there and before conversation groups have formed is a great way to meet a few people and break the ice. Once you know a few names and faces the rest of the event will probably be less intimidating.
6. Embrace awkwardness. Remember, nobody is expecting you to be perfect. A little bit of awkwardness and nervousness can be endearing and if you stumble over a couple of words, or a silence goes on a bit longer than you like don’t be hard on yourself. You’re going to make a better impression as a genuine, slightly awkward person than if you come across as too slick and fake.
It can be overwhelming at first, but the more time you spend networking, the easier it gets. The payoff from building those real life connections will be more than worth the effort it takes to put yourself out there and give it a try.