Professional networking is a strategic part of business development – the process of establishing mutually beneficial relationships with fellow professionals, prospects & customers.
Now, if you’re a people person then this probably comes naturally to you. However, if you’re more introverted by nature then it can become a more challenging aspect of your corporate role. All teams benefit from comprising a diversity of personality types. But it’s helpful for everyone to have a the confidence to walk into a meeting and participate in the conversation, or to pick up the phone and gain the other person’s attention with ease.
The following 5 principles are ways to improve confidence to navigate those uncomfortable face-to-face networking situations. If you’re already comfortable networking then maybe you have a colleague that could benefit from this advice.
Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
Preparation helps to overcome networking nerves. Nothing makes you feel more confident than knowing your stuff. Bringing clear, relevant information will give you the peace of mind that if the worst comes to worst, you’ve got something to talk about.
Glean as much as you can about the event in advance, e.g., attending delegates, timings, speakers etc. This enables you to prioritise your time & decide who would be most useful to build a connection with. That way, you’re not left wandering around a room full of strangers.
Plan an elevator pitch regardless of whether you need to formally make one. It’s a great tool for succinctly summarising your business & experience when you need to.
Compile a bank of questions you might want to ask your new connections. A bit of time thinking about what might pop up can save you from an embarrassing moment.
Work it Like a Gym Membership
You only get back what you put in and the more you do the easier it becomes. Your mandate is to talk to as many relevant people as possible, so don’t stay with anyone too long. Five to ten minutes max. If you’re only talking to one person, invite them to join you in walking over to a bigger group.?Attend at least one event per quarter to keep yourself visible.
Be personal when you meet new people, use their name immediately in conversation. It makes them feel more comfortable & shows you are paying attention. Furthermore, it makes the group seem like a group of friends rather than a faceless mass. If using this strategy feels manipulative, think how it feels when someone says your name in a similar situation. It isn’t sneaky. It’s kind. It also helps you to remember that person’s name — at this event & in the future — so it’s also a smart social skill.
Networking isn’t just about you. Cut down on how much you talk about yourself. Introduce other people. Make it about the other person & the other people in the room. Become a Connection Agent.
Knowledge & Attitude is Inspirational to Others
You know it, remember you know more about your organisation & subject than the other person & this is something you are passionate about.
Be engaged, everyone can tell if you’re not engaged or just going through the motions. If you take a genuine interest in their business, they’ll likely take an interest in yours
Passion & enthusiasm for what you are doing will help to engage the other person. People will connect with you if you speak positively. Motivate & inspire them. Empathise but don’t get carried away. Surround yourself with people who have the right mindsets & positive attitudes.
No Need to be an Extrovert
Relax, if you come across as comfortable & approachable, the rest will follow. Remember, everyone is there for the same reason. You won’t be the only one feeling nervous.
Be an active listener, everyone loves to talk about themselves and for an introvert this is networking heaven. Many people don’t listen when others talk: They might be quiet, but they are just waiting for a chance to talk again. If you are shy, listening is easier than talking. So become a good listener. Don’t ignore the conversation. Don’t wait in dread for the moment when you will have to talk. If you let people discuss their experiences & opinions — & listen with sincere interest — they will remember that they had a great conversation with you. And you didn’t have to say much at all.
But don’t apologise! Introverts & inexperienced networkers tend to apologise when asking for help because they believe networking is an imposition rather than an exercise in relationship building. Apologising makes you look like a novice. Stop it. It showcases a lack of professionalism & confidence. You don’t have to apologise for wanting to learn more about the person you are talking to. The expectation with networking is that one day you will be able to return the favour you are asking for now. Believe in yourself.
Follow-up promptly with those who you’ve met – LinkedIn, email or meeting up for a one-to-one. Share information. Maintain contact.
Make notes about your new contacts. Keep a record of when and where you met.
Don’t fear rejection, accept risk. By doing so you’ll find it much easier to make cold calls & strike up conversations with strangers. The person sitting next to you at a conference may be feeling as uncomfortable as you are & will appreciate you breaking the ice. And they just might be a fabulous contact for you or know the right person for you to talk to. Don’t assume everyone but you has it together. It is a rare person who never felt awkward in a social setting. Maybe the person next to you is your next best business contact. Maybe not, but you will never know until you try.
Getting rejected happens because you will certainly encounter people who can’t or don’t want to help you. You will encounter rude people. You will meet people too busy to chat. You will find yourself talking to people who don’t like you & people you don’t like. You might disagree on something that’s important to one of you. You might find them overbearing. They might find you nerdy. Don’t take it personally & don’t dwell on it. It doesn’t mean anything about you. Relationships aren’t equal opportunity. You don’t marry everyone you meet; you won’t be friends or business partners with everyone you meet either. Meeting people & not hitting it off is all part of the process.
And finally, remember that networking is just another name for the conversations you have with people in your personal & professional communities while you are pursuing your professional goals. Networking is all about what you make it to be.