For many people, networking can be a really scary proposition. For some of us, we’re scared of making fools of ourselves, that we won’t know what to talk about, that people won’t be interested, that we’ll be that person in the corner of the room frantically trying to look busy on our smartphone who nobody else wants to talk to. For others, we worry about wasting our time, attending the ‘wrong’ event, not meeting the right people, coming away without any prospects or leads, or even being outmaneuvered by a competitor.
So how do we conquer them? The first step is actually to accept them. Fear can be good. It can help us be more wary, more prepared, more alert to the risks. Fear comes from our natural human survival instinct. Things can go wrong, but if we’re alert and prepared, we’ve got a better chance of reacting.
So if you’re worried you’ll waste your time at an event – do your homework first. Find out who else will be attending. Is there anyone you think could be a good contact for you? Do the other people attending have connections with your target market? Find out what format the event will take. Will it be a structured meeting or an informal mixer? Is it a social or a business event?
If the worry is people won’t be interested in you, spend time in advance thinking about what to say about what you do – not just what your business is, but what problem it solves for your clients. Think about stories that can bring it to life. Do some homework about who is likely to be there and make your stories meaningful for them. Also, don’t be scared to make the conversation about the personal as well as the business. Business is about people and our relationships with them after all, and making a connection on a personal level can make you memorable.
The next step is to realise that you’re unlikely to be alone. That person looking supremely together and confident, quite possibly isn’t. They may just be very good at looking that way. How it feels on the inside can be quite different to how it looks on the outside. When we spend our time trying to feel what other people look, we waste effort – no one can see how you feel, they just see how you look.
I learned this the hard way myself. I spent so long wasting energy trying to feel confident about speaking in public – the way other people seemed to – that I didn’t have any left to do a good job presenting. When I stopped worrying about the feeling and concentrated on the delivery instead, the confidence came along by itself.
Another tactic is to think about what networking is really all about. Too often we see it as a way to sell – where we will either win or lose, be judged as either salesworthy or not. If instead we think about networking as an opportunity to grow our network – to make contacts and connections, to find resources rather than to close a deal – that puts things in a different light. For me, it certainly takes the pressure off.
So, be prepared, dive in, have fun, get to know people, build your community, extend your resources. You never know, you might just get to like this networking thing!