You walk into a room full of people. No one makes eye contact, but they all seem to be staring at you. Self-conscious, you realize you missed the “business professional” memo. Oh good, a corner to stand in… maybe I’ll just stay here for a while. A woman walks up to you smiling, shakes your hand and introduces herself. Okay, maybe I CAN network. But then you realize... no words are coming out of your mouth. What’s my name? What do I do? Why am I here? In a panic, you run out of the room, slamming the door behind you.
Now, while networking can seem intimidating at first, it really isn’t that bad. In fact, it can be a lot of fun, and if you prepare with the right steps, you’re biggest networking fears can melt away.
1. Complete the Sentence: I’m going to this networking event because _________.
Knowing why you are networking is just as important as actually networking. Are you going with the intention of meeting someone specific? Are you wanting to gain clients? Be asked to speak at an event? When you identify your goal in networking, you can be intentional about how you approach the event and how you introduce yourself to others. For example, when I want to land more speaking gigs I make sure to say, “Hi I’m Jenny Maddern, I’m a personal brand consultant and speaker.” This way, I open doors for people to ask about my speaking. No one is going to read your mind and hand you the job or connection you’re looking for.
2. Brainstorm your List
Now that you know why you’re networking, you need to know who to network with. While the worst thing you can do at a networking event is not network, the second worst scenario is when you walk out with a bunch of business cards that don’t mean anything to you. Identify which people to network with specifically (I want to network with Susan Smith) or generally (I want to network with 3 small business owners).
3. Identify your Fears
One of my good friends used to have a hard time at networking events because she was shy, and she came across to others as disinterested. When we talked about her fears, she was able to make a conscious effort to overcome them and now she’s a rockstar when it comes to networking. You can only go from fearful to fearless after identifying what it is you’re afraid of in the first place!
4. Mild Stalking (or if that sounds too creepy “Do your homework!”)
Find out who is going to be at the event either through Facebook or by contacting the event coordinator. Do your research on what companies people work for and what their roles are. This step can expand off of your brainstorm list. LinkedIn is your best friend! You can easily see if you already have connections to people you plan to network with.
5. Avoid Sending Red Flags!
You can make a fantastic connection with someone, but you can send serious red flags if they ask for your contact information and you don’t have a business card (paper or digital) to give them. Come prepared to show others that you are serious about what you are doing even if you are still a student or just beginning your business.
So you’ve identified your fears, you know who you want to talk to and why, now what? Maybe you’re afraid of mispronouncing others’ names or others not being interested in what you do. The best way to overcome these kinds of fears is to practice. Find a friend or family member who will pretend network with you. Practice makes perfect, or at least more comfortable!
And remember to practice speaking with your own personality. For example, I don’t introduce myself as Jennifer because I go by Jenny and I feel it better expresses my personality. Networking may seem very formal at first, but it’s really all about communicating who you are and getting to know others and what they are about.
7. Remove the Pressure
By practicing introducing yourself you’re already halfway there to making a great connection. Next is to actually make conversation. But what if I don’t have anything to talk about?
Here’s a quick acronym of topics to FORM conversation:
F - From: ask where they live, if they grew up there, where they went to school
O - Occupation: ask where they work, what their role is, how they got there
R - Reason: This is where you can start connecting the conversation to your goal. Ask why they’re at the event and share why you’re there
M - Motivation: Share why you’re speaking to them, what you’ve heard about them or their company and why you are interested
8. Don’t Apologize
One quick point on wardrobe choices: If you ever leave the house with the need to apologize - fix it! “I’m sorry I just came from the gym!” “I didn’t know this was a formal event!” “My makeup sweat off in the car!” Use your wardrobe in your favor, don’t let it be your detriment. A compliment on your earrings can launch a conversation, but opening with an apology about your appearance can be distracting and come across as unprofessional. If you’re worried about something going wrong, keep a little makeup kit in the car or in your purse.
9. Failure is not Fatal
Last but not least, if you mispronounce a name or stumble over a few words, the networking event isn’t a bust. One awkward conversation is not the end of it all. Take a minute to regroup before approaching the next person and then walk over with confidence. Every introduction can be a fresh start. Remember, networking is just getting to know people - but with a purpose.
Whether you own your own business, you’re responsible for gaining new clients, or you’re fresh out of school and looking for a job, networking is the key to success. And with these 9 tips you’ll be a fearless networker in no time.