We once received some truly terrible advice that before giving a talk you should imagine the entire room naked. Frankly, unless you are standing in a room with the cast of Love Island, the chance is that this will simply make you feel rather uncomfortable and a little bit exposed. Instead, we have spoken to the experts and asked for their advice on ways to overcome your networking nerves that should make walking into a room full of strangers that bit easier.
- Be genuine
Networking is a pretty simple formula really – it’s about forging genuine relationships that can lead to business relationships. So there is absolutely nothing wrong with admitting that this is your first event and you are feeling nervous. That being said, don’t put yourself down at the same time, nobody likes a Debbie Downer. So there is nothing wrong with saying, “I’m a little nervous,” – we would, however, advise against admitting “last night I was so nervous that I binge watched an entire season on Netflix whilst eating Ben & Jerry’s” – see the difference?
- Reach out to the host
People who organise networking groups are, by very definition, pretty friendly. If you are nervous you could always reach out to the organiser – ask him or her a little more about the event, what to expect or even arrange for a coffee meeting (organisers of networking events are often the most connected people). This means when you arrive you will already have someone to talk to and an important person who will help you meet the right people.
- Have a game plan
Now this one may seem a little obvious, you are going to a networking meeting to make new contacts, duh. However, having a defined and focused plan may help release some of that pressure and also give you a heady sense of satisfaction at the end. Try and be specific whether your goal is “to collect 20 business cards” or “arrange a coffee with two potential clients” – think carefully about what you can do.
- Be interested in other people
Yes, you are obviously at a networking group to gain more business, but the best way of doing this is to get the attendees to know, like and trust you. Instead of focusing on business, which can be a little bit of an awkward conversation, ask about them, which can lead to a far more natural and engaging conversation. You know the standard British topics – kids, the weather and obviously Love Island. In truth, in networking you are not selling to the room, but to the people they may know. And so the more they like you, and the more you are at the forefront of their mind. Try not to think of them as strangers, but as your extended marketing team – they are the people who will promote your services to others.
- Practice makes perfect
Truth be told, networking is something of an art, and some people are just naturally good at walking into a room full of people and schmoozing whilst others are less so. However, even if you are in the latter category you will find that practice really does make perfect and so if you do find your first experience a little challenging don’t be put off and remember the old adage – if at first you don’t succeed try, try and try again.