Networking. It’s something that many people either dread, put off or simply see as a necessary evil which they do but don’t enjoy. It doesn’t have to be that way! Though not a natural networker myself I do know it can be good for business. So it’s something that I do get involved with, in spite of my natural instincts to hide away in The Shed!
So if you aren’t keen on networking yourself and find yourself making excuses and putting it off, here are 5 ways that you can take some of that stress away and start to find networking productive AND enjoyable.
1. Take the pressure off
When people go to a networking event, they feel under pressure to make a sale or to find a new business opportunity immediately. I’ve got news. You probably won’t. So relax! If you’re now thinking, well what’s the point of going? The point is to NETWORK. Not to sell. You’re there to make introductions to new, potentially interesting people and to continue building relationships with those people attending that already know you. Instead of thinking “I must make a sale” why not have the objective of finding ONE interesting/ useful person to arrange to have a coffee with to discuss ways in which you could help each other? This doesn’t need to be someone you’d like as a client. It could be someone who has a similar customer base to you that you could collaborate with.
2. Be prepared
Make sure you have as much information about the event as possible. Is there an attendees list? What’s the format? Where can you park at the venue? Will you be expected to stand up and talk about what you do? Will you be expected to make your own introductions? The more you know about an event from a practical point of view, the more comfortable you’ll feel about attending it.
3. Use your ears more than your mouth
One of the things that people tend to panic about when networking is not knowing what to say. There’s this expectation that they have to have lots of things to talk about, that they need to be amusing, interesting they need to impress. Let’s take a step back. What do most people like to talk about? That’s right. Themselves. So let them! Ask open questions (not things that can easily be answered yes/ no). By saying very little, simply by nodding and smiling, saying things like “that sounds really interesting, tell me more about that” or asking “I’d like to help you find more business, how can I do that?” you are inviting useful information about that person, building a rapport. And you’re also taking the pressure of having to think of stuff to say. Plus in addition, we more often remember those who allowed us to talk about ourselves and seemed genuinely interested in us. In behaving this way you not only take the pressure off yourself but will undoubtedly be more memorable.
4. Approach small, open groups
If you are going to one of those events where you’ll have to make your own introductions (I know! I HATE them too!) then as you enter the room look for small groups where the people’s body language and stance is open and welcoming. Don’t make life hard by trying to get into little huddles of people who all seem to know each other and who are probably catching up on the latest. When you walk up, smile and make eye contact, wait for a natural pause and quickly and simply introduce yourself.
5. Focus on follow up
Chances are you’re better at 1-2-1 contact than networking so make the most of this by following up well on all contacts made. If you said you’d call, do it. Look out useful information or introductions you can make to those that you met and get in touch with them. Even a simple email, or even better a handwritten note, to say “It was nice to meet you” can be effective. All of these will cement you even further with those you met and hopefully you’ll start to build useful and productive business relationships with some of them.
Follow these five tips and I’m sure that you’ll get much more out of your future networking!