I remember walking into my first networking event – Ahhhhhhh! I remember wanting to stand against the wall and eat my free pre event snacks until the session started. Totally normal response by the way, after all these people in the room are actually out to get you and want you to leave (sarcasm).
So these are my top 4 truths about networking. Remember them next time you encounter a bout of omfg-strangers-are-scary anxiety.
Truth 1 – Striking up a conversation (or joining in) is easier than you think
It’s a networking event, 99% of people are there to talk to new people. Keep it simple, I find introducing yourself and saying “Hi I’m Cherish, nice to meet you” and asking a basic question such as “have you been to one of these events before” a good way to kick off the conversation. But what if you walk in and everyone is already in groups chatting away? Then what? Firstly if there is a snack station, go get yourself a drink, you always want to keep one hand free so you can shake hands and interact. Approach a smaller group (1-3 people) and introduce yourself. Admitting you don’t know anyone at the event is a cool ice breaker, we all know those feels and chances are the group chat you have joined.. well they met each other about 2 minutes ago as well.
There will always be the 1% of people who are just not very nice to socialise with. I’ve met them, the type of people who will give you one word answers and show very little interest in your kind attempts to get to know them. They are the exception not the rule. If you find a sunshine hater just excuse yourself and move on (more about that later).
Truth 2 – You do have something to offer
If you have listening ears then you have something to offer. Networking is not actually about fanning people with business cards and moving on. It’s not about pitching your product, well at least not directly. It’s about getting to know people and that means a bit of active listening. Being in the moment and asking questions. There is nothing worse than talking to someone who is constantly looking away from you, looking for god knows what. It just sucks.
Be there in the moment and treat that person well. You don’t have to have all the experience to be interesting to talk to, ask questions, be interested. Stop worrying about your story and focus on understanding the experience of someone else. Naturally you will end up sharing a bit about yourself, without the stress of needing to say or be something you are not. You don’t remember people because they are experienced, you remember them because they were interesting and fun to talk to. You do have something to offer, always.
Truth 3 – It’s okay to excuse yourself from the conversation to talk to someone new
Sometimes you might spend an entire event talking to one person. But most of the time that’s not really what you are there for. It’s okay to excuse yourself from the conversation to talk to someone new. This is BY FAR the hardest part of networking because you want to leave on a positive note. This article, this one and this one all have a number of strategies you can use. You will need to build some courage, particularly if you experience a bit of social anxiety. But it is okay to detach yourself and speak to other people, that’s what you are there for.
Truth 4 – It get’s easier
With every event you attend it will get easier. You may have the urge to drag someone along that you know to every event. If so have a game plan, otherwise you will end up standing in the corner talking about your weekend and internet memes instead of getting out there and experiencing all the fun of meeting new people.
Go on, you rock – get out there!