Let’s paint a quick picture…
You are at work and your boss comes over to you. Long story short, you hear the words “event” and “networking.” Your hands are getting clammy and suddenly, it’s noticeable just how often your heart beats.
Does this ever happen to you whenever you think about networking? A whole room full of people you may or may not know…where you are expected to make small talk and build rapport.
Some say that networking is a talent. Those who make extraversion look like an art, might take more naturally to networking overall, but arguably, networking is a skill. Like virtually any sport, networking follows the same age-old adage “practice makes perfect.”
Unlike sports, you can’t quite hit the field, track, turf, pool, etc. when it comes to networking. So, what do you do to overcome the clammy hands and heavy heart beat?
First, let’s quickly talk about the elephant in the room, which is WHY is networking so intimidating? Just top of mind, here are the usual culprits:
- What if I don’t know anyone there?
- Who will I talk to? What do I talk to them about?
- This is work, not fun!
Sound familiar? Not all networking has to be intimidating, scary, overwhelming, or work at all. Believe it or not, networking can even be fun!
Here are a few “dos and don’ts” when it comes to networking:
DO – small things to help yourself feel more comfortable and confident walking into a room. Treat yourself to a coffee at your favorite shop on the way over, listen to a song that puts you in a good mood, wear something you feel comfortable and confident in (appropriate to the venue and event of course!).
DON’T – worry about being nervous. Even the best of networkers feel nervous sometimes. Generally speaking, there seem to be two types of networkers, those who get energized by networking and those who get drained. But just like swimming, baseball, hockey, etc. networking takes energy and focus, and not every practice/event will be your best performance. That is why you practice.
DO – find something you like. Small talk is just awkward. You walk into a room full of people you don’t know and all of a sudden you are expected to have intelligent, meaningful, and bonding communication. Where/how do you even begin…and what happens when people are already in groups talking? First, the easiest way to start a conversation is with a compliment. Find something you like. Someone’s hat, the food, an outfit…whatever it might be and use that as a conversation starter. Second, don’t worry about interrupting a group conversation; it’s a social event. People expect and anticipate interruptions. Be confident. Be polite. Start with a compliment.
DO – be genuine…and try to have fun with it. But be careful if there is an open bar. If you are genuine in recognizing your feelings (even nervousness) and you are sincere in conversations, that will get through to the people you meet! Having a positive, optimistic mindset walking in can also do wonders. Even if you think you aren’t going to have fun, tell yourself you will. You’d be surprised what a difference this can make.
When you are ready to put your DO’s and DON’TS to work, there are no shortage of events in our community to practice with. Start with something easy – where you might know someone else going or where there is a friendly format to the event.
If you want a truly no-work networking experience, check out the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s Scramble event on November 8th. Meet new contacts and connections without the clammy hands or racing heart, and practice your networking skills!