Forging Connections Authentically and With Confidence
What happens when you show up at a conference, a careers fair, or a roundtable event? Do you dive straight into the crowd and start mingling? Do you gently work your way in? Or, do you back into a corner and break out in a cold sweat?
For many people, networking is a terrifying, disabling prospect. This may be because they're introspective, introverted, unconfident, shy, hindered by bad experiences, or simply new to the whole experience. Whatever the cause a fear of networking can be hard to overcome once it's established.
Networking is an important skill to have and, if you can overcome your anxieties, your professional life will benefit from it. So, get ready to step out of your comfort zone, and read on.
Adopt a strategy for your networking, and work through the practical steps outlined in our article, Professional Networking.
Not all networking events are equally important, and you don't need to attend every one in your calendar, or speak to everyone at the ones that you do attend! Instead, focus on meeting the right people, at the right time and place, and discussing issues that fit your workplace priorities.
Set yourself one or two realistic goals so that you can network in a targeted way, with a clear vision of what you want to achieve.
Many people worry about what they're going to say at an event. But, while you can't script an entire conversation, you can prepare a few questions and try to memorize an introduction, so that you don't end up standing next to someone in silence. Have a short two- or three-sentence introduction (your name, occupation, organization, and reason for attending) ready. A few pre-prepared, open-ended questions to ask once you're past the introductions will put the spotlight on the other person, and help you to relax and listen as he or she talks. The roles will reverse at some point, so consider what you'll need to share about yourself – such as what you're looking for or what help you need – and what your responses to likely questions will be when you're put on the spot.
Walking into an event when conversations have already started and groups have formed can knock even the most seasoned networkers off course. If you're one of the first people to arrive, you can enjoy the relative peace and quiet, and settle in before the real work starts.
Send the Right Signals
Fear is often revealed in our body language, so it's crucial to loosen up and send the right signals. You may be shaking inside or wishing that you were someplace else but, if you stay mindfully present and give the impression of confidence through your body language, you'll look open and engaged. In general, try to look relaxed, warm and alert, and remember to smile. You'll also encourage others to approach you, saving you the discomfort of approaching them. Equally, look out for other people whose body language is open and approachable, rather than for those in close-knit, huddled circles or groups.
Take a Decompression Break
Networking events can be physically, mentally and emotionally draining. When you feel your energy levels ebbing, it's important to take time out to breathe.
Know When to Call Time
Some people get so anxious to make a good impression that they drag conversations out for too long. Others feel so nervous that they talk non-stop, and they end up unintentionally dominating a conversation. A key skill for any networker is knowing when it's time to move on. Aim for short, memorable conversations