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Networking is one of the most important things you will do in business. It gives you the opportunity to meet many new people that you otherwise wouldn’t bump into and many of those could well become a client, or at the very least, a referral. Walking into a room full of strangers can be a daunting one – especially if you aren’t the most outgoing. The thing to remember though is we have all been there. That outgoing, super confident guy you see working the floor was once just as nervous, panicked and scared as you. It really is worse in your head than the reality. The best thing to do is just to jump right in and be yourself!
To help you through it though we have put together some little tips on how to overcome your fears and sail through your first networking event. Here goes…
This is a great one. It takes the pressure off as you are automatically in a calmer frame of mind from the off. Give yourself time to find the venue, have a little look around. Find out where the cloakroom is and the toilets are. Familiarise yourself with the place so that when everyone else turns up, you are relaxed.
Turning up early also usually means you will be there when the event organiser turns up – fantastic as you can instantly get chatting in an informal setting without a large group and it gives you the opportunity to tell them a little about yourself so when others do arrive, the event organiser can do the introductions, again taking the pressure off.
Think of your drink more as your ‘prop’. A lot of people feel more comfortably if they are holding something in their hands. You have seen it when people get stage fright for example they will have a microphone to hold. This works equally as well at a networking event as it gives you something to do with your hands and is one less thing to think about with the added bonus of having something to drink if your mouth gets dry.
Being yourself is super important. People want to find out about the real you, not some over confident actor that is just blagging it. Be truthful and honest, let your sense of humour shine through and you will start to relax when you discover that everyone will love you for being you. Don’t be afraid to show weakness and vulnerability as this is often when we build up the biggest rapport with others. When talking about your business, if you love what you do, this will naturally come across so just let it flow.
Usually you will find that others will talk to you automatically as that is why they are there and those that are more used to networking will often move around the room freely, opening up spaces for you but also introducing you if you find yourself in the same area. If you feel on the peripheral though, try looking for a group that looks relaxed and open to others. You can tell by their body language generally and as you approach them, they will probably turn to greet you. If they do, say ‘hello’ and let them finish any conversation they are having and then naturally they will introduce themselves and you can then start the conversation from there. The approaching is usually the worst bit but once you get used to it, it’s totally normal and fine.
It’s a nice idea to start by asking who they are, what they do, where they work and where they have travelled from. If it is your very first event, let them know. Tell them how nervous you were and how you weren’t sure what to expect. After that, the conversation will move naturally into all kinds of other areas. Be interested and ask questions. Take your time and try not to think too much into the next question as you will forget to listen! Give them as much time as you can and if there is more than just the two of you in a group, the others will usually have their own questions too meaning the conversation will continue flowing. Use others questions to give yourself a little mental breather before thinking of what else you would like to know.
Should you hand out business cards? Be all means take them and have them handy should anyone ask for them but don’t go to networking events with the intention of throwing your business cards at people. You want to build up a rapport with people so that they naturally ask for them rather than looking desperate for people to take them. The best thing to do is wait for them to ask you and then you can ask them for theirs in return.
As with business cards, going to events with the intention of selling is also generally a no-no. As mentioned, the idea is to get to know the people and create connections, not sell at these events. If the conversation naturally goes in that direction then of course, give it a go but I would say the best thing would be to collect their details and setup another chat over a coffee outside of that environment.
If you’ve listened to the steps above, you will hopefully have a few business cards and new contacts. Make sure you follow up with everyone you met at the event either the same day or the latest the morning after. This will ensure you are still fresh in their mind and they will have no trouble remembering you. If you’re on LinkedIn (hopefully you will be), make sure to add them with a personalised invite by mentioning something you discussed at the event. This will help jog their memories a little – especially if there was a lot of people at the event. If email is your thing, send them a quick message. Tell them it was good meeting them and if you discussed meeting up again, you could mention this again and perhaps try and organise a coffee.
You’ve heard the saying and practise really does make perfect when it comes to networking. The more events you go to, the better you will become. It is like everything in life. The more you go to these events and meet different kinds of people, the more confident you will get and the less nervous you will be. Try and go to at least one per month, more if you can. You never know, you might be guest speaker at one in no time!