Networking tips for the shy and socially awkward!
We all know that networking and public events can really benefit our businesses, but many of us find them intimidating and maybe even a little overwhelming. Some of us even find it hard to post out branded letterheaded paper let alone hand out a business card or flyer. We know too, that being reserved can be beneficial, but don’t be so reserved that you fail to make the connections your business needs. These tips will help you come out of your shell, promote and grow your business and hopefully, with any luck, help you stay out of your shell too!
The first thing to remember, You are not alone!
So, you get nervous and clammy handed just at the thought of a networking event? Join the club! There are so many people out there just like you; and it’s always worth remembering this as you enter one of these events: you are not alone. Whatever fears you may have about networking, you are not the first to feel these. Whatever, and however strong, the fear of business networking events is, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Hopefully the tips below can help you realise this, understand how to better manage these, and with practice and good faith help you make them a thing of the past, so you can channel your nervous energy into something positive. Nerves also lead to a little forgetfulness, so double check you have your business cards, flyers and anything you may need before you leave. It’s worth considering a branded presentation folder to gather your printed marketing collateral in too – nothing harmful comes from looking and being professional.
If you’re attending a networking event, it’s more than likely that there is a reason you are there. Your skills, your experience and your perspective on things are all unique to you; know this and value it – you have something to contribute. Even if you don’t fancy leading the conversation, good listening skills and an occasional, considered contribution are just as important and can help you build a rapport without actually saying an awful lot.
Do your homework
There is nothing wrong with doing a little prep. If you find yourself clamming up when the nerves kick in, go prepared. Often, even if you know you don’t like doing something, the nerves may surprise you, knock you off balance and drain your confidence. Combat this by having some questions prepared. Do you have any business cards from previous meetings to use as a starting point for your research?
You know your subject, so learn a little about those that you may meet; look their company up, its history and what its plans for the future are. These can be a great foundation for some opening questions. But if you want to steer clear of specifics you can be vague and ask about their working day, or even about what they get up to outside of the office – you may discover that you have more in common than just work.
Don’t panic over the meet and greet
It’s often the ‘breaking the ice’ moment that most fear. Of course it’s hard to strike up a conversation with a stranger if you’re already feeling a little nervous. A good way to help avoid this awkward moment is to contact a colleague beforehand and arrange to meet; or if there is someone you are particularly interested to meet in a professional capacity that is attending, arrange for an introduction – hopefully they’ll be keeping an eye out for you too this way, and you’ll feel a little more comfortable at the meeting. It’s a cliché, but do have a business card or some printed collateral that you can hand over – something they can remember you by when they get back to the office.
Go out of your way to put others at ease
If you keep this in mind, pay compliments and stay authentic, people will naturally feel at ease around you, and you know what? That feeling of being at ease is contagious!
Do something fearless
The longer we leave something unpleasant to do, the harder it becomes. So don’t dilly dally, walk in, walk straight up to the first person you see, shake their hand and ask them a question. Be fearless! That’s it, you’ve done it - you made the first move and now you can relax a little while they talk, just be sure to listen and be ready with any questions they may inspire. The sense of achievement you’ll get from this, the buzz; that will feed you for the rest of the event with any luck. And when you walk away leave them with your business card or printed letterhead to remember you by.
Know your stuff
One of the reasons you might find networking painful is the small talk! Even if you’re listening and not leading a conversation small talk can be painful. If you know your company stuff inside and out and details of the other companies represented at the event you can hopefully keep conversation across areas of relevance and interest. You can even try to avoid small talk by keeping up with current affairs – this can provide multiple topics of conversation that (hopefully) everyone can contribute to without veering into small talk.
Remember, it’s okay to just be yourself. Don’t let nerves and fear make you feel uncomfortable and not yourself. Do all of the above and have the confidence and self-belief that ‘you’ve got this’. And define yourself as such – you’d be amazed what a little preparation and a positive attitude can help you achieve.
Finally, don’t forget to follow up!
If you don’t feel inclined to follow up, just think about the next event that you may have to go to and the fact you may meet some of the same people again. If you’ve followed up from your previous meeting this shouldn’t be awkward at all, you may have even had further discussions by email after the first meeting, and so now you won’t be meeting strangers. Plus, it’s the polite thing to do and may provide dividends down the line. And this is why it’s important to have your business cards, flyers or any other printed promotional material with you – and make sure they are on point! You’ll want people to have some record of meeting you that they can refer to when they follow up.
Hopefully these few tips and pointers can help you prepare for the next networking event, social evening or conference that you’re required to attend; and in-so-doing help banish some of those first night nerves, some of that social anxiety, and instead help you to really grow and reap the benefits of such events for your business and for your personal growth.