I’m great at parties. I’m super comfortable in front of an audience. I’m conversational on a wide range of topics. I carry a stain remover for when I invariably spill sweet and sour sauce on my shirt. But my first networking event made me feel like I had changed elementary school in the middle of the year, showed up in the middle of the lunch break and had to sit alone in the corner staring at the cool kids not spilling sauce on their shirts.
Networking can be very intimidating but it’s pretty high up on the list of important life skills (right after changing a tire and making dinner that doesn’t involve the words “Lean” and “Cuisine”). And once you get past the fear of networking, you’ll find that the ability to build up your network with good business relationships is a key part of your success.
Here are some ideas to help you get the most out of your network and actually start to like networking.
How to Like Networking:
Focus on Building Relationships
Network Where You Feel Comfortable
You Can Plan to Avoid Awkwardness
It’s Not All About You
Concept #1: Focus on Building Relationships
My dad always used to say “nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so”. It’s a lesson I occasionally forget. The last large networking event I attended had me worried about my consulting deliverables a lot more than building new relationships. This carried into the conversations I was having. At one point I could actually see a potential prospect’s face tell me from a distance that they were dreading the conversation about to happen. It was because my face probably said the same thing. Just go out there and focus on having positive conversations with nice people. Remember, networking isn’t about selling in the moment, but building a network of important relationships. You’ll turn people off quickly with a hard-sell approach.
Concept #2: Network Where You Feel Comfortable
I am NOT a morning person. As such, I used to enjoy evening events a lot more. But as I’ve gotten married recently (thank you, thank you) and am expecting a little guy any day now (also, thank you) I now feel a lot more comfortable being at home in the evenings. So, a nice morning event, networking lunch or, even better, a coffee after lunch fits better with my current lifestyle. That’s not to say I don’t still go to evening events, but I make sure it’s an event where I’m confident I’ll meet good prospects. Being more selective about the events you choose to go to will go a long way towards helping you feel more confident while networking.
Concept #3: Two's Company
I’m pretty confident on my own. But I’m a ROCKSTAR if I’m joined by one particular member of our team (she knows who she is!) We’re both on time, settle in quickly and work the room together efficiently. We know when to leave each other and we know when to stay together to help close. Plus, she’s just fun to hang out with. It makes a long night of work seem like a great night out. If you’re someone that typically feels uncomfortable at networking events, team up with a co-worker or friend to help you work the room with a bit more confidence.
Concept #4: You Can Plan to Avoid Awkwardness
I’ve noticed I can avoid the “awkward pause” portion of the evening by simply having a purpose to my conversations. I’m not overtly selling, but I am looking for commonalities between me and my new friend. When in doubt, “What brings you here tonight?” can be a pretty easy starter question. I also avoid certain areas. Don’t stand near the washrooms (people can be headed towards urgent matters). Don’t stand near the entrance (most people are surveying the room and deciding on their next moves). Try near the bar (alcoholic or breakfast, depending on the event). Usually waiting for people to fill a glass or a plate is a good sign they are ready to mingle. If you’re lucky enough to know the host, don’t be scared to ask for an introduction.
Concept #5: It's Not All About You
It’s very easy to go into networking with the mindset that you’re hunting and need to get as much value from each conversation as you can. But your goal should be to see how you can add value to those that you meet. The best connections are ones that are mutually beneficial. That can be connecting someone to an ideal client or helping them with advice on which phone to buy. People buy from people they like or are like. Be likeable.
Concept #6: Be Patient
If you go into an event thinking you’re going to close your next big deal… you’re in for a bad night. It’s like dating. If you’re trying to propose on your first date you’re probably going to be eating dessert alone. Similarly, get to know people. Nurture the relationship. It doesn’t all have to happen during that conversation. Figure out how you want to keep the conversation going (suggest another event, offer to buy coffee, make an introduction) and then follow through.
I used to be surprised when I see great networkers who out themselves as introverts. But I’ve come to realize that they all have a process. They follow best practices and it helps them to get over their fears. They get out of their own heads and reframe the process as just talking to friendly people. They avoid situations that make it unnecessarily difficult. They aren’t afraid to ask for a little help from a friend or colleague that makes them feel comfortable. They’re focused, helpful and realize that you don’t need to swing for the fences every night. But mostly, they realize it’s not middle school and no one really cares if you spilled anything on your shirt or not. But it doesn’t hurt to bring a stain remover just in case.