Anxiety and moments of social uncertainty surrounding networking can be all too common. Tap into the below 7 hacks to overcoming networking challenges ahead of the next BPN event.
#1 Challenge: “Being an introvert, I am most comfortable in small groups or one-on-one”
As an introvert, it’s smart to recognize that one-on-one and small groups are the most comfortable way for you to network. Asking someone out for coffee or joining small meet-up groups are good ways to network, but what if you have to attend a bigger event? In business and life, there are networking events you can’t escape, such as a company event, a conference or a friend’s wedding. Here are some ideas to make these events more enjoyable.
-When attending networking events it’s good to know that you’re not alone in your thinking. Research shows 30 per cent to 50 per cent of the population has some degree of introversion, so remind yourself that others in the room feel the same way. Why not make them feel more comfortable? Offer up a warm smile and be the first one to ask a question. Have a host-like mentality—even if you aren’t the host.
-You can also take the pressure off networking by relaxing and remembering to discover what you can do for someone else with no expectation of anything in return. The bonus to this what-can-I-do-for-you attitude is it creates natural conversation fire-starters. Since you want to learn about the other person, you instinctively ask questions.
-When you know you have to network in a crowd, go with a tag teammate. It is simply easier to network with a buddy.
-It’s normal for introverts to feel drained after networking in a large crowd. Make sure you congratulate yourself for having stepped out of your comfort zone. It will make you feel positive, rather than negative, about the experience, and as a result you will see networking in a better light.
#2 Challenge: “Getting up the nerve to speak to strangers”
Although it is not life-threatening, no one likes the potential of rejection. An example of networking rejection is starting a conversation with someone only to have them put up a “wall.” When this happens, it’s easy to react to their reaction. Why doesn’t this person want to talk to me? Does this person not like me?
Once you understand what is happening, you can protect yourself from this unnerving situation. Instead of catching their negative virus, act confident―even if you have to fake it. Continue to smile, stay focused, keep your body language open and maintain the conversation in a positive manner. Your goal is to leave that person with a mirror of your positive emotions, actions and intentions. No matter what the outcome, if you understand what is happening at a neural level, you will feel you are in control of a positive outcome for yourself.
#3 Challenge: It’s a challenge to break in and introduce yourself where there are cliques
Find an open group, not one where you have to use a jackhammer to break into the circle. Approach the group with a smile and try to make eye contact with someone. Be patient, and when there’s a break in the conversation, introduce yourself. Yes, you can still be rejected (sorry, some people still act like nerds in their cliques), but if you treat it like an experiment, it takes the emotion out of it―you’ll be more curious than fearful. I wonder how long before someone acknowledges me and invites me into the group?
It’s good to test-drive breaking into a group. You will need backup. Say to your networking tag teammate, “Wait here while I try and join that group. If it doesn’t work, come rescue me.” Knowing you’ve got backup in the room removes the risk, and you will find, after a few successes, that it will be easier for you to do solo.
How can you be a positive networker if you are one of the people in the group who notices someone who wants to join your circle of conversation? Immediately acknowledge the new person with a smile. Move so there is room for the person to join the circle. Then, when there’s a break in the conversation, bring the person into the group, “Please join us. Let me introduce you to everyone.” Having these social skills are good for your reputation, plus it’s the right thing to do.
#4 Challenge: “I am not quick with small talk”
– Understand that small talk feels awkward. It’s an investment you have to make to get a connection happening between two people.
-Avoid “fancy” questions such as, “Tell me something about yourself that I wouldn’t know.”
-Keep the questions logical, contextual and open-ended, if possible. “Your name tag shows that you are a member—tell me something about this association.” “How do you know the host?” “What are you hoping to learn from the speaker?”
-The goal is to get people talking about themselves, what they do, their passions or interests. Once you have achieved this, the conversation will begin to flow.
-Don’t set the bar too high for yourself. You don’t have to be quick or witty, you just have to be interested.
#5 Challenge: “Conversational skills—I can generally carry on a conversation, but there are some people I am entirely awkward with, and I cannot clearly identify why”
-You may be getting a vibe that they are judging you or wondering if you can do anything for them. This is the modus operandi of old-fashioned transactional networkers, and it feels uncomfortable to be caught in their crosshairs. Remember, you can add value. They just don’t recognize this.
-They could be shy. They need time to feel comfortable and understand that you don’t bite.
-Perhaps the other person is more senior, and you feel intimidated. Your inner voice says, I want to make a good impression. If this senior person is someone in your company, talk about the work that you do and your team. As a leader, they should want this information. Or ask them about some of the latest company initiatives and their thoughts. With anyone who is more senior, give yourself permission to engage in a conversation with a little self-talk, They should want to hear what I have to say; I’m sure they do!
#6 Challenge: “How do I exit a conversation gracefully?”
Exiting a conversation is one of the harder things to do when circulating in the networking pond. Finding the correct moment to do it and not sounding too harsh are a couple of the challenges. Let’s start with “what not to say”.
-“I see someone over there who I want to go and meet.” (Implication: I want to talk to that person more than I want to talk to you.)
-“I see a friend over there who I want to say hello to.” (Implication: You are not as important to talk to as a friend of mine.)
Instead of these brush-off sentences, become skilled (and kind) at exiting a conversation.
-The nicest approach is to take the person over to meet someone else. “Let me introduce you to someone I think you should meet.” Or “Why don’t we go meet some other people?” Recognize that this may not be the best technique if you want to move on solo.
-Good networkers exit conversations as painlessly as possible—no fuss, no muss. Just a few kind words, and they are on their way. They find a moment in the conversation to change the subject and let the other person know they are moving on. “Natalie, I’m so glad I’ve learned more about your company. You’ve done some impressive things with your social media. Thanks for your insight. It was great talking to you.” Shaking hands is a nice way of signing off.
-Of course, this exit dialogue approach doesn’t work if the person leaving the conversation has been scanning the room planning their escape. Make each networking conversation a high-quality engagement, no matter how brief.
-Also, it’s important to not be the one clinging on to the conversation. Recognize that the other person may be happy to move on too.
#7 Challenge: “How do I follow up? How do I maintain my relationships?
-When you meet someone, look for an opportunity to share some information immediately or at a later date. If you’ve been asking them questions, you’ll probably have enough knowledge so you can follow up with some topic you discussed.
-If you meet someone and want to follow up, ask permission at the end of the conversation.
-If you don’t have a specific reason to follow up, ask the person to join you on LinkedIn. Personalize your invitation: “We met at the finance minister’s speech on Friday—those were pretty amazing comments he made!”
Here are some ideas to maintain relationships:
-Go back to the same events or organizations regularly. You will become known, and this face-to-face contact is the easiest way to build rapport and trust.
-Reach out. It could be simply, “How are things going? Grab a coffee?”
-Follow people on LinkedIn and Twitter, use Instagram (your customers and clients may use it for business). “Like” and “follow” your client’s Facebook page. Retweet, comment (positively) on blog posts, and share links.