Networking is something that makes a lot of people anxious. Walking into a room full of strangers and having to talk to people you don’t know can be stressful. It’s not something you’re taught to do, and it seems like networking is a game that only the extroverts like to play. The truth us, networking is simply talking and listening. It can be much more relaxing and enjoyable than you think. Just a few adjustments, mindset changes, deep breaths and diligent preparation and you’ll be raring to get out there!
The thing is you can’t really avoid networking and meeting people. There are too many benefits – it’s a good thing to do. Besides, depending on your job, you’re probably expected to ‘get out there’ and raise your profile. You might even be expected to create business opportunities. That can mean pressure, and when you add that to walking into room after room of strangers, it makes cowards of most of us.
A way to get over your fears and anxiety is to be more relaxed. When you’re more relaxed, you’re better company. You engage more and you create more. You have a better attitude and you enjoy it more. Ultimately, when you’re more more relaxed, you’re more lucky, as this recent video shows. You’re more open to good things happening.
Here are 19 tips for more relaxed networking. It’s full of great advice and strategies for introverted networkers, who are more intimidated than others with the whole mixing, mingling and working a room stuff.
- Get a networking goal. Whether it’s collecting 5 business cards, meeting 3 new people, having 2 interesting conversations, giving out 4 cards, practicing your new elevator pitch on 5 new people – having some kind of objective means success is within reach. And that makes you more relaxed.
- Check your physiology. This is a posh word for body language. It’s crazy but it’s true that ‘shoulders back, chest out and a big smile’ when you walk into a room makes you feel more confident and less anxious.
- Work on your skills. Competence breeds confidence. WHen you get better at something, you feel more confident and more relaxed doing it. So get some mentoring or training. Raise your game with more knowledge and more skills if you want to be more relaxed when networking.
- Go with someone. Networking alone can feel isolating. It’s you against them. If you take a friend or colleague, you’ve always got someone to talk to. That reassurance or ‘fall back’ is definitely going to make you more relaxed.
- Arrange to meet someone. If you can’t go with someone, at least arrange to meet someone there. It could be someone you know but often when you get a list of attendees in advance, you can reach out to a couple of people and make a connection. This is why social media and LinkedIn are great – you can find people and start a conversation even before you meet.
- Find people like you. If you’re nervous, guess what? Almost everyone else will be feeling the same way. That fact alone should make you feel better. If you look for nervous people, you’ll soon see that you’re not alone and pretty much everyone there would welcome a chat with you so they’re not on their own.
- Prep some good questions. For example, instead of asking ‘what do you do?’ which most people ask, get a few more interesting ways to ask the ‘elevator pitch question. Here are 12 better ways to ask people what they do in a networking situation>>
- Go to the right event. Much of the anxiety of networking can be taken away by ensuring you’re in the right place at the right time talking to the right people. That means doing a bit of homework to make sure your kind of people or prospects will be in the room. Event hosts and organisers are usually helpful with this information.
- Make the first move. The maximum anxiety in networking comes from a lack of control. Standing on the edge of a room waiting for someone to talk to you is bound to make the sweat trickle down your back. Look for people on their own or approachable, open pairs and approach with a simple ‘hi, mind if i join you?’ This is so hard to say no to and the confidence you’ll get from taking control will make you feel much better.
- Go where there are others. If you want to get into conversations, head for places like the bar, the food table, the drinks area and the coffee machine. This is where you’ll find the other introverted networkers who are keen to get into a chat with like minded-people.
- Think help, not sell. This is a good mindset ‘reframe’. If you feel pressure to sell your products, services or even yourself, change your approach. You’re there to help people, connect people, listen to people and make people feel good. That feels more comfortable, right?
- Get there early. If you arrive late and flustered, you’re piling on the pressure. When you get there early, you’ve got every chance to form those groups and clusters that everyone else seems to be already in if you arrive late. You’ll feel less nervous if the room fills up around you than if it fills up before you.
- Take on a role. By helping the organisers to give out badges, sign people in, check names, hand out drinks or cookies, take pictures or collect coats, you’ve already got permission to meet everyone else in the room. Plus people will also see you as a very helpful, giving person.
- Take a breath. If you find networking essential but excruciating, take a moment to prepare yourself. It might mean a few deep breaths before you walk in, a quiet moment in the bathroom, a quick check in on your phone. It’s the non-alcoholic equivalent of a stiff drink, which will hopefully make you feel a little more relaxed.
- Wait a while. Some rooms seem full, crowded, blocked out and uninviting. Everyone seems to be talking to someone else and there seems no way for you to ‘break in’. When your outlook is bleak, remember that networking rooms are fluid, and people move around all the time. So wait a while and just watch. In a few moments, hopefully a few more opportunities have opened up for you, which means less nerves and more enjoyment.
- Do the small talk. Having a few topics for small talk will make you more confident in social and business situations. I often ask about two things – people’s journey to the event and whether they know many people in the room. Both are really easy to answer and are good for putting people at ease. Which in turn will make you more relaxed.
- Prepare some answers. You can pretty much guarantee people will ask you two things. (1) What do you do? (2) How’s business? (or any variation like how are you, how’s it going, how are things etc). By thinking through your answers, you’ll feel more confident and relaxed about being there and getting into conversations.
- Stay in groups. If you’re just talking to one person, it’s a little harder to disengage because you’re potentially leaving someone on their own. If you’re in a 3 or 4, then that’s less of an issue. Plus there is less emphasis on you, which means you don’t have to talk as much. That’s got to take the pressure off and make you more relaxed.
- Smile more. It’s harder to be anxious when you’re smiling. So smile. What have you got to smile about? Plenty if you think about it. If it helps, think of a favourite joke, comedy performer, funny moment or satisfying experience. It should be hard not to end up smiling. and remember when you look happy and relaxed, that rubs off on others.
- Remember your ‘why’. If you’re feeling anxious, keep in mind why you’re there. This is how people complete marathons and raise huge amounts of money for good causes by doing difficult things.
- Get introduced. One of the reasons people feel anxious and nervous at networking events is because they don’t know anyone. So ask the hosts or organisers to introduce you to a few people. This takes the nerves out of the situation because that initial contact is made for you.
- Listen even more. If you’re an introvert, you’re probably already a good listener. Listening is a coping mechanism that allows other people do do most of the talking in a conversation. So networking should be relaxing for you – all you need to do is find a few people who are happy to talk. And thankfully there are plenty at networking events!
- Hold something. One thing that makes people nervous when networking, particularly men, is what to do with their hands. The default position for men is sticking both hands in your pockets but this can look aggressive. Hands can also be a problem for women because you often have no pockets. Both of these scenarios are easily solved by making sure you’ve got something to hold, like a book, newspaper, drink, plate, pen or bag. Then you’ve only got one hand to worry about and it’s easier to make natural gestures as you talk. Which means you’ll be much more relaxed.
Got any other ideas for more relaxed networking? This isn’t en exclusive list but there’s enough here to give the most introverted or nervous networkers something to make it a more enjoyable experience.