Unless you’re a naturally outgoing people person who doesn’t mind walking up to complete strangers and striking up a conversation, chances are you find business networking at events a real challenge. For the average person, networking events are a daunting prospect, but they can certainly be helpful for your business.
When you break it down, networking is simply about building connections. Some of those may be prospective clients, others may just be people who you could collaborate with or businesses that could support yours to grow. The right framework of connections can really help your business to thrive and you will likely find that opportunities you never expected fall into your lap.
But how to actually network at events, you ask?
Okay, so here’s the thing. If you’re not a natural networker, it’s going to involve a little (or a lot of) discomfort—at least in the beginning. There’s no avoiding the fact that you have to put yourself out there a little, and at first, this can feel awkward and perhaps a tiny bit anxiety-inducing. The good news is that with practise, it becomes much easier. And while you may never entirely quell the rise of anxiousness that comes with walking into a room full of people you don’t know, you will begin to feel more comfortable with it.
Networking: the how-to guide
When it comes to business networking, the first thing you need to know is that confidence changes everything. Confidence comes with experience—which is why attending more networking events will help—but it also comes with knowing your business and what you have to offer. Research tells us that junior employees are much less inclined to enjoy networking than senior employees or business owners and this probably comes down to the fact that they have less knowledge and experience of the company, not to mention less power.
Let’s take a look at some of the things that can help you to feel more confident and less like a self-promotional monkey.
1. Get clear about what you’re bringing to the table
The first tip in building confidence while business networking is to get clear about what skills and uniqueness your business can offer others. Think about what drives you to get out of bed in the morning, what you’re passionate about. You might like to start with your ‘why’.
2. Flip from focusing on yourself to focusing on others
Business networking is a two-way street. If you think less about what others can do for you and more about what you can do for others, you may find it is much easier to talk about your business and what it offers. Any work activity that can be linked to a higher goal becomes more appealing so try to think in those terms and focus on the ways you can help.
3. Connect other people in your network
Take yourself and your business out of the equation entirely by focusing on how you can connect others. While having a conversation with someone, it may become evident that they could benefit from connecting with someone else in your network. Make these introductions and help to build other people’s businesses without any benefit to your own. This is not just good karma, it can help to cement strong relationships within your networking community that will benefit you in the long run.
Find yourself standing there awkwardly with a blank brain?
Try Dan Lier’s 4 point strategy for networking. It’s a great a cheat sheet to help stop you from feeling stuck when it comes to what to say. Try to remember the following questions to arm yourself with at your next business networking event:
- What do you do for a living?
- How did you get started?
- Just curious, what do you like most about your business?
- What’s your biggest challenge in your business right now?
And my bonus tip!
Look for people standing by themselves or groups of 3 or 5 (odd numbers). It is much easier to make a conversation when there are people not totally engaged in conversation. Constant exposure will make you a pro in no time… lean into the discomfort… you got this!