Your first major challenge to effective networking is to understand that networking is not inherently sleazy.
I know both men and women who have this particular opinion. When you’ve been raised in a way that encourages modesty and humility – you may feel particularly averse to networking because it is sometimes thought of as a combination of bragging about yourself and using people.
Some people that I’ve spoken to actually feel dirty after engaging in ‘instrumental networking’ (i.e., networking with the goal of advancement).
So what if you’re shy?
Some people use excuses to ignore networking altogether: it doesn’t feel comfortable for me, I’m shy so I won’t do it. But you’re missing huge opportunities in the process.
What’s critical to recognize is that there’s not just one way to network; it’s not all about going to 500-person cocktail parties and trading business cards. You can network in small groups; you could invite a colleague out for lunch, or host a small dinner party, or get curious about other things you all have in common with other people.
You can ‘network’ by creating content, such as writing blog posts, because that’s a way of building your name recognition and encouraging people to want to get to know you. Even if you’re an introvert, you can play to your strengths, be authentic and interact via comments.
Resist the urge to arrive late. It’s almost counter-intuitive, but showing up early at a networking event is a much better strategy than getting there on the later side. As a first attendee, you’ll notice that it’s calmer and quieter – and people won’t have settled into groups yet. It’s easier to find other people who don’t have conversation partners yet.
If you’re nervous, find the toilets beforehand and start a little empowerment exercise. You could adopt a physical power pose. Sounds funny hey? But try it anyway. If you stand in a traditional power pose, let’s say how a superhero would stand – head up, shoulders back, chest out, hands on hips – you’ll often find it much easier to gain a little confidence.
Imagine someone who inspires you or someone who has the qualities you desire. For this purpose let’s imagine someone who is a strong presenter, someone who speaks in front of many people or performs in front of crowds. And then imagine you have the ability to step into their body. Like a ghost, just imagine yourself merging into their bodies and having the ability to see what they see, feel what they feel and use all of their senses.
Now is your chance to make that new persona your own. Walk out into the networking event, in persona, just as your hero would. Assume their bravado and walk straight in proudly and boldly.
Okay, so we’ve stepped into a more confident you, now it’s time to reframe the event itself.
Mindhack #1 – It’s all about giving
One key thing that I hope more people will recognize is the fact that not all networking is ‘instrumental’ – I personally think that none of it should be.
Undoubtedly you’re going to feel bad if you’re talking to someone and the whole time you’re thinking, “What can this conversation get me? What can this person do for me?” You’re not actually engaging in the interaction; you’re plotting. Instead of seeing the interaction as a kind of long-term relationship building, you’ll be far more likely to view it positively if you begin to view the whole experience as an exercise in ‘how can I help all of these people?’
At a networking event, first and foremost, try to relax. Don’t hang around the edges of the room, waiting for someone to approach you… just dive in. This is a chance to make new friends, so smile. It’s a simple – but often overlooked – rule of engagement. By smiling, you’ll put your nervous self at ease, and you’ll also come across as warm and inviting to others.
If you see someone standing alone, go up and introduce yourself. To get the conversation started, simply walk up to a person or a group, and say, “May I join you” or “What brings you to this event?”
Don’t forget to listen intently to their replies. If you’re not a natural extrovert, you’re probably a very good listener – and listening can be an excellent way to get to know a person. Many others will feel just as nervous as you do so a welcoming smile and “Hello” will not go astray. BE SURE TO REMEMBER THEIR NAME. As soon as you hear their name, repeat it in your mind at least 3 times. And after that try to inject their name into your conversation as you address them.
Networking is not supposed to be aggressive. I bet you can’t stand an overbearing sales person nagging at you, so be wary that you aren’t bombarding others. A pushy attitude may drive other networkers away for good.
Remember, networking is all about relationship building. Keep your exchange fun, light and informal – you don’t need to do the hard sell within seconds of meeting a person. The idea is to get the conversation started. People are more apt to do business with – or partner with – people whose company they enjoy.
Mindhack #2 – Practice the pitch
Inevitably, within the first few moments after your initial contact you’ll be asked ‘So, what do you do?’ This is where your pre-practiced ‘elevator pitch’ comes in crucial. This is essentially a short summary of who you are and what you do that should be able to be delivered within the time span of an elevator ride.
When someone asks this question you will fare much better if you have a short sharp response that doesn’t immediately bore them. You may nervously wish to explain every aspect of your business… DON’T!
Practice a very short introductory ‘elevator pitch’ which explains, who you are, what you do and who it helps. If you spoke to me at an event you would hear me say ‘Hi, I’m Richard Scott (WHO I am), I’m a mindset coach (WHAT I do) and I help women to smash through any personal or professional glass ceilings’(WHO I help).
This gives the information in a short burst and produces questions… ‘What’s a mindset coach? How do you help them? Is it strictly just for women?’…and you’ve opened the conversation.
Practice, practice, practice… nail your elevator pitch to the front of your mind and repeat it often. Run it past friends and family, and use it at every given opportunity. So when you’re asked about what you do, you’ve practiced this so often it just rolls off your tongue without even thinking about it.
Mindhack #3 – Self-belief and passion
Share your passion and belief. You’re doing what you do for a reason – hopefully because you’re passionate about your work and how it helps others. If the passion isn’t there, I’d suggest looking a little deeper into that to discover what’s going on. Win people over with your enthusiasm and belief in your product or service.
People will subconsciously respond to stimuli other that the actual words you say. They will pick up on your body language, your eye contact, and the tone of your voice, your energy and how passionate you get when telling them about what you do.
So, leave a lasting impression by telling a story about why you were inspired to create your company. Or perhaps a case study of your greatest achievement. Talking about what you enjoy is often contagious, too. When you get other people to share their passion, it creates a very memorable two-way conversation.
Ask questions and be a good listener. Encourage others to participate in the conversation and make sure that you are alert throughout their responses. Act as a sponge and attempt to soak in everything that is being said. Repeat their responses in your mind a couple of times. You will be thankful later when you try to recall what you have learnt!
Remember to follow up. Networking is where the conversation begins, not ends. If you’ve had a great exchange, ask your conversation partner the best way to stay in touch. Some people like email or phone; others prefer social networks like LinkedIn.
Get in touch within 48 hours of the event to show you’re interested and available, and reference something you discussed, so your contact remembers you.