Let's be honest with ourselves for a moment ... Sometimes the word "networking" conjures images of uncomfortable schmooze-fests, where suit-clad business exec's work the room, wine glass in hand, feigned interest at the ready. (It even gives me anxiety from time-to-time!) Who would enjoy that?
Networking (hard truth here) is a huge pain in the butt. It’s standing around, making awkward small talk while wearing a name tag, trying not to sweat, jumbling over your words holding a napkin of cheese and crackers and trying not to spill your liquid courage. Frankly, sometimes it just plain sucks! It’s tiring. It’s draining. It’s gross.
But networking and making REAL connections doesn't have to feel that bad as it’s simply about having conversations with people. Not about small, stuffy rooms where people are throwing their business cards at you before running off to the next person. It’s about sitting down with someone and chatting. Having normal, yet REAL human conversation.
“Behind every successful person, there are many successful relationships.”
- Joe Appelbaum, CEO of Ajax Union
So, to get over this terrifying networking dread, all it takes is a little imagination and some tips to get you started ...
- Do your research about the people you’ll be meeting. Well, don’t socially stalk them online, but having some talking points will definitely put you at an advantage. And ease the anxiety behind awkward silences.
- Practice and rehearse. Just like you would for a presentation or speech. This way you know how you’re going to present yourself without sounding robotic. The less “um’s” and “uh’s” the better.
- Share the stress. Bring a friend. Not only to ease the loneliness but maybe you might know someone they don’t. Or vice-versa. Plus, it couldn’t hurt to have someone to talk to during “dead time” so you don’t look alone and unapproachable.
- Keep things short n’ simple. Introduce yourself. Discuss the talking points you planned. Ask about them then move on to another introduction. This way the conversation will never go stale and you don’t panic when you run out of things to talk about.
- Focus on your strengths. Now isn’t the time to hide your abilities. Go ahead, toot your own horn a bit by brining up your past accomplishments and future goals to show everyone you have ambition and drive.
- Make it a game. For example, set a goal as simple as learning one new thing, meeting two new people, adding three people to your LinkedIn network and/or giving your business card to four people.
Networking isn't merely the exchange of business cards and information with others. It’s about establishing and nurturing long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with the people. You don't have to join several professional associations and attend every networking event that comes your way in order to be a successful networker. In fact, if you take your eyes off your smartphone for just a second (or altogether) when you're out in public, you will see that there are plenty networking opportunities are all around you every single day.
It’s never too late to invest in your network, thus investing in yourself and your business. The best way to simply improve your skills and go from terrifying to liberating while overcoming networking dread is to put yourself our there. Truthfully, the worst things you can do is not try at all.
And it all begins with being vulnerable …
“Courage starts by showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
– Brene Brown, Researcher, Storyteller and Author
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