This guest post comes to us via Alexa Fischer, a communication coach who helps her clients feel confident and comfortable speaking anywhere – in presentations, at networking events, on video. You can get free admittance to her Public Speaking 101 course here or follow along on Twitter and Facebook.
Did you put ‘Attend more networking events‘ at the top of this year’s list of resolutions?
‘Make awkward small talk with strangers while shoving my business card in their direction‘?
‘Wander around hotel ballrooms while avoiding eye contact‘?
No? Now I find that surprising.
Most of us think we hate networking. We think it’s a necessary evil and if we do it at all, we probably do it with a healthy dose of grumbling and side eye. Regardless of your industry - coaching, photography, copywriting, or a brick and mortar business - your business will benefit from networking.
And it’s really, actually possible to do without dying inside. Here’s how.
- Stop telling yourself (and anyone who will listen) how much you hate networking events
If you spend 20 minutes complaining about networking for every 10 minutes you spend actually networking you’re not going to get any closer to liking it. We all do things we don’t like that are good for us in the long run (I’m looking at you, 6 am spin class). It’s part of being a successful adult. It’s okay if networking isn’t your new hobby, but commit to stopping the complaints.
- View networking as an opportunity to help + connect people (rather than just promote yourself)
This is the biggest, best thing you can do for yourself and your business. Can’t you just feel your shoulders relaxing at the thought of it?
Instead of feverishly prowling the room looking for people to pitch, what if you just approached someone with a friendly face and talked to them like a human being? And then when they mention that they’re struggling with social media, you can tell them about your beloved Twitter guru. Or when they say they need a virtual assistant for 10 hours a week, tell them about yours.
If they’re buying something you’re selling or need help with something you know about, by all means tell them about it! But don’t worry or rush or force yourself to ‘always be closing,’ just be the kind, helpful human that you usually are.
- Don’t limit the conversation to business stuff
You’re more than a web developer or a wedding photographer - and so is everyone else at this networking event. Go ahead and ask people what they did last weekend, if they’re doing anything fun this winter, what they’re reading. Their answers will give you insight into their personalities that a job title won’t and you’ll be a lot more likely to connect when you discover you both love winter vacations to Utah.
- Invite people to join your conversation
Don’t you hate hovering at the outside of a conversation circle, doing that thing where you nod and make eye contact and devotedly hope that someone will include you? Be the person who invites others in.
Include them by telling them what you’re talking about and inviting them to contribute. “We were just talking about our post-holiday plans and our obsessions with Park City, Utah. Are you doing anything fun to get through the rest of the winter?”
- If you’re really, truly shy, don’t force yourself to stay for three hours
If you’re introverted or really uncomfortable in groups don’t force yourself to network for a million hours. Give yourself a goal (talk to three new people, stay for 45 minutes) and when you’ve met that goal, head home to your Netflix. Maintaining your sanity is a lot more important than exchanging one more set of business cards.
How do you feel about networking? Share your best tips in the comments!
photo by Rex Roof // cc