Why Networking Isn’t So Scary?
Boy, do I love walking into a room of complete strangers, joining conversations already in progress, and awkwardly trying to talk myself up without coming across as too braggadocios. NOT! If this is how you also view networking, it’s no wonder you dread it. You are not alone. For an introverted person, networking can feel like the scariest thing in the world!
The conundrum is that networking works, so you should do it. According to a 2022 article posted on Review42.com, 85% of positions are filled through networking and 95% of professionals consider face-to-face communication vital for long-term business. The good news is networking does not have to be SO scary. Let’s consider how to make this vital business component a little more manageable.
How To Make Networking Manageable?
Bring A Colleague – Large networking events can be overwhelming but attending them with a friend or colleague can help ease the fear of approaching new people. The two of you can work the room together! It would be best if you choose a friend or colleague that has a similar interest and investment in the event as you do. That way you both see the value of attending and can help each other make the most of your networking time. One caveat to this tactic is to make sure the two of you do not just end up taking to each other the entire event. That would defeat the purpose of being there.
Focus On Quality Interactions – It can be overwhelming to feel like you need to meet and speak with everyone at the event. You don’t. Rather than thinking of these interactions in terms of quantity, you should think of them in terms of quality. Networking is about connecting. Five deeper conversations can be more valuable than one hundred “fly-bys”. So don’t be a card collector. Rather, go into the event with the hope of having a handful of meaningful conversations. You may find those interactions to be even more rewarding.
Lend A Helping Hand – Is there anything more impressive than being a problem solver? If you really want to make an impression, think about how you can help the person you are meeting. I love helping people. It doesn’t scare me at all! I find it much more awkward to try to casually investigate how a person could enhance my own career. So, be a helper. It will benefit your career much more in the long run!
Think Long Term – Part of your networking stress may be tied to some belief that you need results immediately. For instance, that you are going to meet that perfect connection at the next event who will catapult your career into the stratosphere. If you expect that to be the case, then you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself. Not to mention feeling crummy when it does not quite work out that way. So, just relax. Enjoy the process of meeting people without expectation. We may not know when our work put into networking will pay off, but when you least expect it, that person you met two years ago could open a huge door for you!
Lay Some Groundwork Online – There are numerous options these days for connecting with people online. Professionally, LinkedIn is one of the most utilized platforms for building your network. Take advantage of the extensive networking opportunities that exist online. When I receive a connection request (or a short message) from someone on LinkedIn, I am usually more than happy to connect with them. And this is a great way to lay the foundation for a professional relationship. If you are a little shy in person, maybe online could be more of your speed initially.
Prepare – Nothing eases the nerves like a little preparation. Feeling prepared equates to feeling confident, usually. When it comes to networking, there are a few key preparation tactics that I like to recommend.
First, prepare your elevator pitch. Fine tune what you are going to say about yourself because people will ask. This little introductory pitch does not have to be long, maybe 30 seconds or so. But people will want to know who you are, what you do, and/or what interests you. Pretty basic stuff, right? So don’t let these simple topics freeze you up. And whatever you say, be humble.
Next, keep up with current events and major news headlines. Growing up, my dad used to always try to get me to read the morning newspaper, and I usually just rolled my eyes and tried to change the subject. What I failed to realize at the time is that an informed person is an interesting person and a good conversationalist. On the flip side, and uninformed person can be a bit of a drag to converse with. Keeping up with current events is a small daily investment (maybe 10 minutes) that will go a long way. There is the daily newspaper, online websites, TV news shows, Twitter, and many more options. So, whatever speaks to you, take the time.
Finally, research the event when possible. Knowing ahead of time who will be there, both individual people and companies represented, will give you an opportunity to formulate a networking strategy and prepare some talking points. Doing so will increase your chances of making the most of your time at the event and making a good impression on the people that you meet. Again, a small investment for a potentially large return.
Someone once told me that the word “work” is within the word networking for a reason. Networking is hard work. But it does not have to be scary. Networking can also benefit your career, so it is well worth the effort. Don’t be shy. You are the person everyone came to see!