Networking May Feel Awkward, but We’re All in the Same Boat
I wouldn’t consider myself an introvert, but there is something intimidating about going to a networking event. I don’t know if it’s the huge rooms, the people are milling around everywhere, or everyone seeming to be talking to someone already. But every time, I have this kind of panicky internal conversation:
Me: “Should I get a drink?”Me to Me: “Of course I get a drink.”Me: “But, I don’t want to look like a lush.”Me to Me: “Forget the drink, I need to get two platefuls of appetizers… I’m STARVING”Me: “Just one little plate. Awww come on… they are out of those little puff things! OK now… what do I do with my hands?”Me to Me: “I should totally put them on my hips… power stance!”Me: :face_with_rolling_eyes:Evil Kermit. Digital Image. Know Your Meme http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/evil-kermit
Whenever I start to get worried about networking, I think back to Joe. I was attending an event with some of my friends. We were standing in a group and chatting, and out of nowhere a seemingly quiet and introverted guy walks right up to our circle of people and says:
“Hey everyone, sorry to interrupt, my name is Joe, and I don’t really know anyone here. You guys looked friendly so I thought I’d come over and say hello!”
It was pretty clear that Joe was taking a huge step out of his comfort zone, but we welcomed him right into our conversation. I always thought it would feel awkward to do something like that, but seeing it from the other side, I didn’t see it wasn’t awkward at all. In fact, I think Joe deserved a big old fist bump – way to go Joe! Joe had guts. I really respected the fact that he came up to a group of strangers who seemed to already know each other to say hello. So, props to Joe, you’re a hero in my book.
So now, every time I’m attending an event or any situation where I have to face a group of people that I may not know, I think of Joe. That conference was when I learned that no matter what kind of networking you’re doing, it’s not weird to walk up to strangers to say hello. And in fact, that’s what they’re all at a networking event to do: make new connections.
Here are a few more tips on how to approach people at networking events:
- Get some ice-breakers ready
- Treat people like friends
- Share a personal story
- Just be yourself
Get some ice-breakers ready: It’s tough to come up with things to talk about with people you don’t know, and that’s especially true when you’re under pressure and on the spot. That’s why it’s a good idea to come up with some topics to chat about that are neutral but engaging. A great TV show you like to watch, a fun website you’ve come across, or the hottest new restaurant downtown could make good topics of conversation. If you’re really stuck? Compliment people and see where it goes from there. If you noticed in Joe’s story, the first thing he told my group was that we looked friendly. Everyone wants to think that they look friendly and approachable, so Joe did a good job appealing to the group’s egos by telling us we did. Even the humblest person at the event will appreciate a sincere compliment from a stranger.
Treat people like friends: Networking is all about building relationships. There is no other situation you would be in where you would push your business card/information at someone and then walk away. Think of networking as any other social situation – because it is. Start a conversation with someone and get to know them. If it flows naturally into the conversation, ask to exchange information with them. Once you’ve done that, don’t walk away. Continue the conversation or make plans to meet up with them at the next event. Business relationships are just like friendships and have to be based on trust. Building rapport with someone before asking them for something is the best way to get what you are looking for.
Share a personal story: A study done by the American Psychological Association found that people who engage in “intimate disclosures” tend to be more liked than those who don’t disclose about themselves. There is extensive research, including a study by Harvard Business School, that backs the same idea – that people like you more if you share personal information with them. That doesn’t mean you have to get into the intimate details of your personal life though… just telling a personal story from your childhood or maybe an embarrassing experience at work not only makes people feel more positively about you but will also make you more memorable and interesting to your new connections.
Just be yourself: I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, networking is just building relationships. You want to be yourself in any relationship you’re building, not the person you think other people want to meet. People will see through it if you’re not being genuine. The people you connect with when you are being your most authentic self are the relationships that will last.
Looking for more tips on better business relationship building? Check out our blog: Top 10 Ways to Build Strong Professional Relationships