I've always found networking very difficult. There have been many an occasion where I've hovered nervously outside of a conference or training room door wishing that the ground would just swallow me up, looking down at my phone hoping for some last minute cancellation or excuse to get out of opening that door and facing my fear.
The fear of walking into a room full of strangers and having to introduce myself, make conversation and talk about who I am is always a scary prospect. I can't deny it, it terrifies me and it always has but one thing I've grown to learn is that it's a necessity that gets better with practice. Although the fear may never completely go away you can learn to manage it.
The truth is that networking just isn't part of my genetic makeup and I, like many others, find it very hard. That said I face that fear head on every time as otherwise I would never get anywhere or ever get anything productive done. Plus each time I come away from a situation like that I'm usually buzzing with the adrenaline of having succeeded in facing the fear, making new connections and even new future friends. So despite how much it pains me to say - it really is worth it. It's a fear worth conquering even if like me you have to continue to face it over and over again!
So I thought I'd share some of the tips that I've picked up along the way that might help if you feel the same way, as well as some favourite articles of mine from other bloggers sharing equally useful advice.
If you don't like networking then have a browse below - and if you do then please send me any further advice that you have. Or look out for me at your next event, I'll be the one hiding in the corner who may spread my wings at some point and come and say hello!
SIX TIPS FOR BETTER NETWORKING
1. Practice going in strong. Walking into the room, offering a handshake and introducing yourself can often be the hardest and most intimidating part. If you have quite a quiet voice like me then this first part is actually something that is well worth rehearsing before you go. Walk in with confidence, offer out your hand and practice saying 'Hello my name is … nice to meet you' or whatever your opening phrase of choice might be. It might sound cheesy but running through this beforehand can actually work wonders. Plus making a strong entrance and a confident start will put you in good stead for the rest of the evening.
2. Plan ahead. Have a think and do a bit of research before you go about who you might meet, what you might ask them and lines of possible conversation. Why are you going and what kind of information would you like to come away with? Don't forget that you may not be the only one who feels nervous. Networking is an essential ingredient for a successful career and business but it's something that quite a few people fear so you aren't necessarily alone in feeling nervous. Don't let it control you and ruin the possibilities and opportunities that may be available to you. It's also wise to be prepared with your essential details such as having your business card easily to hand to offer to the people that you meet.
3. Listen. Good networking doesn't mean being the loudest or flashiest person in the room. Being a good listener and showing your genuine interest in others is by far one of the most important skills of a great networker. You're far more likely to learn and spot potential opportunities if you listen to what others are doing than if you just spend the whole time chatting about yourself. So engage, listen and don't feel that you have to hold the crowd yourself for the entire duration.
4. Don't give up. If like me you find this whole thing really very difficult then it's incredibly tempting to withdraw and not put yourself into such situations in the first place. Now you can do that, it's your choice of course, but deep down I suspect you know, like me that it won't solve anything and that it's a fear you should really be standing up to in order to progress in the world! So don't give up. Keep on trying, baby steps, practice makes perfect and all that sort of thing. It does improve with time despite maybe feeling like it doesn't. Your confidence will grow even if you don't notice it at first.
5. Don't be so hard on yourself. Each time you make it to an event and manage to circulate successfully reward yourself and be kind to yourself. Don't be tempted to play each conversation over and over in your head and criticise each word you said and move you made. Even if you did do something you consider to be incorrect, the chances are that no-one else even noticed.
6. Don't forget to follow up. Once the event is over don't forget to follow up with an email or a call to the people that you met, especially if you promised to do so. Dropping an email to the people that you chatted to can help you to build on the connection that you've made and is ultimately the whole point of the game - making contacts, growing your network and having a familiar face in the room next time you put your best foot forward!
FURTHER USEFUL ARTICLES ON THE SUBJECT
4 Ways To Network Like A Cool Kid - The Fresh Exchange
Networking For Introverts - Cupcakes and Cashmere
9 Tips To Help You Work The Room Like A Pro - The Telegraph
How To Network Effectively - Wired UK
Once you've taken all of the above advice on board then the very best thing to do, instead of shying away, is book yourself in for the next nearest networking event and face your fear head on. Check out places like Eventbrite, Meetup or Billetto for activities in your local area and get yourself involved. Ladies may also like to check out local Ladies who Latte groups. A fantastic initiative of women supporting women offering friendship, advice, contacts and business leads - what a brilliant idea.
So best of luck at your next event and I hope that some of the above comes in useful. Let me know your fears and how you tackle them and best of luck with your future networking endeavours.