In my last post, I revealed my deep-seated fear of networking in person. I’m also afraid of sharks and Alex Trebek, but I’ve bodysurfed in the ocean and taken the qualifying test for Jeopardy, so overcoming networking jitters is definitely doable.
If you’re like me, and you don’t like meeting new people at networking functions, consider trying some of these techniques at your next event:
Icebreaker: “So what brought you here tonight?” It’s harder to talk to strangers than people we know, so find some common ground to ease your discomfort. Since you’ve both decided to attend the same event, find out why. This is an easy opener to get the conversation started, and before you know it you won’t be feeling those “new person” nerves.
Network a group: How do you decide who to talk to? If you’re lucky, you’ll be attending an event that has guests sitting at tables for at least a portion of the time. This is the networking jackpot. Find a table with an empty seat, and ask “May I join you?” You now have the opportunity to meet 7-9 new people all at once. The good thing about hitting a group is that there is usually at least one dominant personality who will drive conversation and start the introduction ball rolling so you don’t have to take the initiative if you’re too nervous.
Speed network: Afraid of getting trapped in a corner talking to someone who just won’t stop? Then try setting self-imposed time limits on your conversations. Turn your phone to silent/vibrate, and set your timer for 5 minutes. As you approach your networking target, activate the timer, and you’ll be alerted when the time has finished. If you’re having a great conversation then ignore the timer or turn it off. Just make sure you aren’t trapping your new contact. Need to exit gracefully? Try something like “I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you, but I don’t want to monopolize you for the whole evening. Perhaps we could set up a time to continue our conversation…” and exchange cards. In cases where your new contact isn’t taking the gentle hints, you could always hold up your buzzing phone, and say “Sorry, but can you excuse me? I’ve got to take this call.”
Bring a networking buddy: If you have an extroverted, outgoing friend who likes meeting new people, ask them to take you under their wing. Before you go, define your networking goals, whether it’s meeting people from a specific company, gaining 10 new contacts, or just exercising your networking skills. Depending on your dynamic, you can observe your partner in action and then try out their techniques, or you can let them enter groups and conversations ahead of you and then ask them to introduce you.
Reverse the focus: Too nervous to talk about yourself? Smile when you meet someone, and go through the usual pleasantries, and then follow up on what they said by asking questions. e.g. So how did you get into that line of work? Show actual interest in what they are saying, make listening sounds and nod appropriately, and before you know it you’ll have a new contact without the usual pain of having to talk about yourself.
Whatever strategies you employ, just push yourself to get out there and meet new people. Consider networking a challenge for 2014. You practice your networking, and I’ll prep for the next Jeopardy qualifier. Deal?
Networking tips, trivia, comments & questions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.