Networking may well be a word that strikes fear into the core of your being if you don’t consider yourself to be a naturally confident person.
It can make people feel queasy, anxious and even stressed just thinking about it; but all of this we can control if we change our thinking about networking. Trust me, I’ve done it.
Why network? What is networking?
So why would we/should we choose to network if it really is something we are not comfortable with? Surely it’s better to just find another way of meeting people? Well, I believe there are many benefits to networking.
Networking is a way to build relationships. Effective networking is not speed dating, it is not a case of meeting as many people as you can and ‘banking’ their cards. It’s based on the idea of connecting with people.
Going to a networking event to meet 100 people has little value. People do business with people they like and have engaged with, so you need to build up trust and a relationship with them, which takes time. The relationships are based on authenticity and your core values.
It’s no secret that I network, and I enjoy it! However, it hasn’t always been that way, I am naturally a shy girl and it’s my default state, so putting myself out there and meeting people is always a bit scary.
We have all been faced with the prospect of networking at some point or another. For some, it’s a piece of cake but for others (myself included) it takes a little more thought and practice to be comfortable in a networking environment.
After being in the industry for nearly 20 years I have found a few ways to find confidence in myself, get out there, and build relationships. I am going to share with you a few of my top tips on how you can get there too.
I believe the easiest place to start is in your own workplace. Get used to chatting to people here and practice your skills. You’re guaranteed to have something, or someone, in common when meeting new people at work, and this makes for easier conversation starters.
Find someone you would like to get to know and kick off the process, in whatever way you feel most comfortable. Chatting over a cup of tea, or attending an event can be an easy way in, but when you’re feeling braver, inviting them to lunch or to an external event could be your next move.
Alternatively, ask your friends and colleagues if they are attending any networking events soon, and go together, getting them to introduce you to new people. You can also ask event organisers to do this if you attend an event alone, and would like help meeting new people.
Bring something to the table
Successful networking is based on the philosophy of “how can I help you?” rather than “what can I get from you”. Think about that and how appealing that is to whoever you are chatting to. Most people welcome you with open arms when you ask “how can I help you?”
When going to an event, get the delegate list in advance, see who you might know, or do some research on people you think you might be able to help, then prepare who you want to approach when you get there.
This way you are going with a strategy of being a useful person for others to meet, and rather than worrying that no-one will want to talk you, you know you have value to offer people.
Before starting to network, it is important to give yourself a break and realise that you actually have already achieved things through networking. It is helpful to ask yourself: which parts of networking am I already good at?
What connections have I already made through networking (be it at the gym, when out with friends, or at an event?) These questions will help give you a confidence boost. I can guarantee you have already got some good networking skills and have used networking to make contacts in your personal life already!
The friend you met at the coffee shop, the man you spoke to on the bus or in the kitchen at work. These are all forms of networking- you just need to transfer these skills into another setting.
Still not feeling confident?
Of course, networking is not this simple, especially if you lack confidence. It takes a certain amount of social skills and self-confidence that not all of us possess. This is where the idea of false confidence comes in. Even the most confident person could be having a bad day and would need to fall back on this.
The idea is that we all have some confidence within us, even if we have to dig deep within ourselves, and it is about finding ways to bring this confidence to the surface.
There are many methods we can use to instil this confidence, the simplest being to just have a backup topic of conversation. I have cricket! I love talking about cricket and have found that this is a common ground with many of the men, and women, I meet at events. Having a conversation topic in mind allows you to relax and ease yourself in.
Adopting a persona can you get you through
One thing I do to make myself more confident is to adopt a persona; these personas are based on my personality traits but just exaggerated versions of me.
A lot of people use this method, both in real life and fiction. Take Superman as an example; he has Clark Kent as his persona and Clark is able to network with the newspaper industry.
Clark’s attributes seem completely opposite to Superman’s being quiet and shy but the core values stay the same. If you are quiet and shy you could take this example in reverse and use the confident Superman as your persona!
When I’m nervous or out of my comfort zone, I draw on a variety of personas to get me through the door, into the room and starting to chat to people. You can think of them like a shield – I am still my happy, smiley, bubbly self but just behind my shield.
After a while, I become more confident and am able to the lower the shield and do it on my own – although even I still have to rely on my personas from time to time.
If you feel nervous about networking there isn’t a magic cure, but I’m sure that if you start to view it differently you’ll start to find it a bit easier.
I hope you have found this useful and will try out some of my tips. From one introvert to another, you can do this – and find it fun!