If networking makes you uncomfortable, you are not alone! I’ve certainly had the experience of looking out at a room full of people, all of whom seem to be effortlessly chatting away, and thinking everyone but me finds this easy.
A different way to approach networking is to turn that assumption on its head, and try putting your focus outside yourself.
The truth is, it is awkward for most of us to start up conversations with strangers. But the success of a networking event relies on everyone there taking that little risk to reach out to someone they don’t know. It’s a bit like playing a team sport, or bringing a dish to a potluck dinner – everyone has to make an effort for it work. The people in the room who are “effortlessly” chatting away did in fact make an effort. They took that little risk.
The next time you’re in a networking situation, see what happens if you shift some focus off yourself and just think about making a contribution to the event. Participate by helping others to feel comfortable and enjoy themselves. They are just like you after all. They want to meet new people. They are open to introductions and conversations. They are likely overcoming some nervousness of their own, and will really appreciate that you’re interested in talking to them.
It’s easier to approach people and keep the conversation going if you do a little advance planning. What are some topics relevant to the event that you can talk about? How can you start a conversation in the first place?
Here are some ideas:
“Have you heard this speaker before? What did you think?”
“Are you from the area or did you travel here tonight?”
“How did you get involved with this organization?”
“Have you been to one of these events before?”
” I just wanted to say I really enjoyed your presentation.”
“Did you come here with a friend or are you checking it out on your own like me?”
Keep your eyes open for situations where people are naturally brought together. For example, when you’re waiting to check your coat or get a drink, say hello to the person waiting next to you. When you take a seat, introduce yourself to the people sitting beside you.
Last week I was arriving a little late to an event, and there was one other woman in the elevator with me, going to the same floor. A built-in opportunity to connect! I said, “Are you going to the Canadian Board Diversity event too?”
She smiled and said yes.
When we got to the room, most of the seats were already taken. We were standing awkwardly at the back, when my new elevator friend said, “I see two seats right up at the front. Do you want to go for it?”
I smiled and said yes.
What have you found makes networking easier for you? Your comments appreciated.