For many people, attending social events with a crowd of unfamiliar faces and the pressure to succeed can leave us feeling fragile and fearful of being a failure.
The good news is that social skills are ‘built-in,' deep within our DNA. Just by being aware of our fears and making a little time to practice and prepare, we can all learn to master networking in our style and pace. Extrovert or introvert, networking is an essential skill.
Invest in yourself to develop it!
I can still recall when a college journalist told me, “Susan, I want to shadow you at your next networking event and see how in the world you master “small talk” and “mingling with strangers so naturally.” She had confided in me how awkward social gatherings always made her feel. But she also knew that building and maintaining contacts with people was essential for being successful in her job.
I am a social butterfly, and that is an advantage when it comes to networking. However, from a decade of teaching networking skills workshops to business leaders and employees, I know firsthand that networking is a skill that everyone can learn.
Here are some of the steps that have worked for a lot of people.
Easy steps to build confidence and self-awareness as a networker!
1. The helicopter perspective
Begin by reviewing your attitude towards networking. See it is a way to expand your business and career. Think of it as a way to meet and build relationships with others. Know that you are not the only one who feels nervous. Remind yourself of your value and achievements.
2. Know yourself
Take a moment to acknowledge and analyze both your strengths and your fear. What would your colleagues say are your top three strengths? (Write them down!) What is your professional passion? (Write it down!) What scares you most about networking? (Write it down!) The great thing about being aware is that we can make necessary changes.
3. Embrace the beauty of preparation
Preparing for anything makes us more confident. Before the networking event, do some research! How many people will be there? Can you bring someone with you? Is there a dress code?
Will you know anyone there? Is there a list of participants available in advance?
Set goals: What outcome are you looking for from the event? Define your goals. Aim for them. How many people would you like to meet?
4. Do Your Homework
The more practice we have with any skill, the better we become. That is also true for networking.
Mirror practice. Plan and practice your “elevator pitch.” Try to use words that make you stand out! Record it. Watch it. Get used to your voice and appearance. If you aren’t comfortable, or if something needs to be corrected, make some changes and then practice some more. Invite a trusted friend to watch your elevator pitch and give you candid feedback. Practice some more. And don’t forget smile!
Practice some professional ice-breaker sentences, making sure you smile as you say them.
- “Hi, I’m Sue, and I work at Disney. I enjoyed your speech.”
- “Hi, I wonder if I could ask your advice on…”
Learn to ask questions and then LISTEN to the response!
What humans have in common is our favorite topic of conversation.
What topic is that? Ourselves!
Almost everyone enjoys talking about achievements, so starting a conversation by asking open questions that require more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer can be a fantastic ice-breaker that opens many doors. On the flip side, this only works if we show genuine interest and truly listen. Avoid the temptation to jump in to talk about yourself too soon.
Be aware of your body language.
Learn to make and maintain eye contact, and to listen. We are born with two ears and one mouth for a reason. Keep in mind: People don’t remember what you said, but they do remember how you make them feel!
5. At the event!
If you are nervous before entering the room, seek out a quiet place when you arrive.
Practice your Courage Mantra:
Close your eyes and take seven deep breaths. Repeat inside yourself 25 times, “This is fun” or "I can do this," and your energy will change completely. You will trick your brain into actually believing that you can do it.
Move Around the Room. Try to approach groups with 3, 5, 7 or 9 people. With that group size, there will always be someone who is not talking. Food is a good conversation starter.
Please stay off your phone. There is nothing worse than people not being present, and that phone is a terrible distraction for everyone!
Follow Up. When you have collected business cards, it is a good idea to make a note on the back. Follow up with an email or phone call.
Good luck! Networking need not be the gut-wrenching awkwardness that it once was.
About Susan Binau
Susan is a motivational speaker, published author, and survivor of cancer and other life-threatening illnesses that changed her perspective on life.
Her mission is to inspire others through "hands-on tools," educational programs, coaching and self-help books.