By Kayla Bayens
Networking can be a scary and stressful thing no matter how many times you do it. Especially if you happen to be in those fields that cater to those of us with social anxiety such as the technology fields. But there is no need to worry, even with your heart racing at one of these events as you try to schmooze you can still come out on top. Here are just a few of my pearls of wisdom on how to get the most out of a networking opportunity even if you might have social anxiety.
Nurture Existing Contacts
You never know what they future may hold. That truth carries over to the people around you as well. Your best friend in college may find themselves as upper management in your dream company. You and your former coworker may end up starting a business together because you kept in touch. Or an idea you held onto for a long time might finally be brought to life because you reached out to an old friend. Relationships are the biggest thing you need to focus on when networking. Not just creating and cultivating new ones, but maintaining old ones. Don’t neglect people because you feel like they can’t do anything for you. Networking isn’t about that, its about creating a web of connections that you can always fall back on. Whether that be for support, connections, collaboration, or advice.
You can’t achieve something if you don’t know what you are going for, so set clear goals for yourself. Take 20 business cards and don’t leave the event until all of them are gone. Decide you won’t leave without having made 5 meaningful new connections and setting up at least 1 meeting. Its really not a hard thing to do. However you first need to know what it is you are looking to get out of networking. Are you looking for a job? Or a business partner on a new venture? To increase your current business? Maybe you are on the other side trying to find a good person to hire. Whatever your situation, they need to come with goals. So sit down and spend 10 minutes deciding what those are and which ones are the most important.
Know your story, make it stand out
You are you’re own best salesperson. Literally no one on the planet knows who you are and what you can do more then you do. So be confident in what you are selling. You are awesome, you are amazing, and you are going place! Before the event spend 10 to 15 minutes standing with your legs shoulder length apart, your back straight, and your hands on your hips. This is called a power pose and is proven to boost yourself confidence. Use this pose as you practice how to introduce yourself. Keep you’re introduction short so that its easier for both you, and the person you are meeting, to remember. Think of it like an elevator pitch for yourself. Something you can say in 30 seconds that explains who you are. Wither that be what you do, what you are looking for, why you are at the event, or just even who you want to be.
Customize every conversation
Now I know I just told you to have a pitch memorized but now I’m telling you to customize it. You should know your elevator pitch so well that you can tweak it as needed. Make the conversation personable from the beginning. If you don’t you’ll start to unconsciously sound robotic in your introductions and that will have an effect on the tone of the rest of your discussion. Have different little tidbits prepared for those their in suits, those their in casual clothing, artists, engineers, etc. Try and create something that will engage the person from the very beginning. I know it sounds like a lot of work, because it is. But the people you are meeting will take notice of the extra effort and you’ll be highly rewarded for it later on.
Smile & Mingle
Lets say say you come to the event by yourself. Who do you approach? Well the easiest people to approach and start a conversation with would be the people standing by themselves, much like you. If everyone is in groups already then pay attention to body language. Groups that all already know each other and just want to catch up with form closed shapes and be turned inward to each other. Groups open for people to join will be an open ended shape and make eye contact with people approaching. If you have some very social butterflies at the networking event they tend to make their groups more welcoming by making eye contact and smiling before moving to open the group to you.
Once you have selected your target then comes the introductions. Remember to smile as you firmly shake their hands, and repeat their names as they are given. The repetition will help you remember their names when you are talking to them. Make sure to stay focused on the conversation happening through active listening (something I can go over in a later post if needed). Ask questions for more information or details, or just to engage those in the group with the conversation happening. List more then you talk. I know that seems counter intuitive but alot of people when they get nervous just talk about whatever pops into their heads. Instead take in the conversation and be thoughtful with your responses and questions. Contribute to the discussion going on but make sure its in a meaningful way even if that means bringing in another perspective to something being talked about.
Lastly, take notes. Its weird I know but you will need it. Maybe the conversation gives you a great idea, or something is mentioned you want to look more into. Heck you can even use it to take a few quick notes on what is being talked about or who said what to use later in your follow up emails. Remember you can never have too much information, but don’t let the note taking take over and keep you from the discussion.
Follow-up within 24hrs
Its best to work fast while you have someone’s attention. For this I suggest that the people you are meeting that seem like the most promising contacts, set up a meeting somewhere outside of the event right there and then. Arrange to get coffee the next morning, to get lunch, or to meet up after work for drinks. You need to strike while the iron is hot to make sure you can get the most out of the experience while you are still fresh in their minds. Now this won’t always be possible especially if they are like me and have so many things going on that they need to sit down to look at their schedule. In that case you should send a follow up email the next morning suggesting you all meet up at one of the activities I mentioned above to talk more. Make the message personable and reference specific things for the networking events conversation that you want to follow up on. This will trigger the memory of the person you are emailing and make it more likely that you will get a positive response. Plus its a gentle, nice way of reminding them who you are from a sea of faces they probably met at the event.