Networking is an inevitable part of business, unfortunately, though it’s not for everyone and even the most outgoing of people can find the task daunting and tiresome. For shy people and introverts in particular, it can fill them with dread. The thought of being in an unfamiliar place with a group of people you’ve never met before, and knowing you are under pressure to make a good impression and come away with new connections can all be too much. To help, we’ve put together some basic tips to help those people who perhaps find networking intimidating.
As with most things in business, preparation is key and as the saying goes “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. So, before you go to your event spend some time researching the event, the type of people who are going to be there and think about what you want to learn from others, along with exactly what is you want to take away from the event. Having a set of questions already in your mind will help you if you ever feel put on the spot, or can sense a conversation running dry. Also think about what you want to tell people about yourself, how you want to sum up your business and what you do. This will help you avoid becoming tongue-tied and missing key bits of information.
You don’t have to throw yourself straight into a huge event with lots of strangers, start small by contacting friends, family and familiar faces, either by picking up the phone or in person. Building your confidence and practising your networking skills with people you are comfortable can be a huge help for future opportunities. Then expand your network and perhaps try contacting your alumni network. For your first event, start at something quite small scale and friendly and even take a friend with you to help you find your feet.
Your body language and the way you act will say a lot about you, and certain actions can also help you if you are a naturally shy person.
Looking relaxed and smiling will make you look warm and approachable, meaning that people will be more inclined to come up to you and start a conversation, which can be a big help if you aren’t confident at initiating conversations.
You may be surprised to hear that great conversations can happen without you saying much at all. People love to talk about themselves and their experiences so listening with sincere interest can encourage conversations, this also leads us onto the next point.
Listening and asking questions go hand in hand in order to show a real interest. Try to avoid closed questions and ask leading questions that require a long answer. This again encourages conversations and helps with the natural flow. Questions can also help in group conversations, rather than fading into the background and staying quiet pose a question to the group, this can be easier than wading in with an opinion.
Talk about your passions
It doesn’t always have to be about work and business, talking about your passions and hobbies outside of work can be great conversation starters and ice breakers. You may even find common ground with someone who has similar interests, this can then lead nicely into a more business based conversation and before you know it, you’ve made a great connection. This can make conversations and connection seem more sincere and less forced. You could also think about making connections at events related to your passion, whether that be book clubs, cooking lessons, sports groups, not all networking has to be business related.
Sending follow-up information can help with your credibility. You may have promised to share an article or report with someone you made a connection with, perhaps you just found something that may be of interest to someone you spoke to, or it may relate to the conversation you had. Either way, following up with things like this not only keeps you fresh in their mind but it can also create further conversations and opportunities down the line.