Have you ever been to a networking event and the moment you walk through the door your heart is pounding, you feel completely out of your depth and all you want to do is to turn around and run away? Well, you’re not alone.
It’s National Stress Awareness Day today and as many entrepreneurs will tell you, networking can be one of the most stressful things you can do in business. Networking requires you to meet new people in an unfamiliar environment with the added pressure of having to sell yourself and your business. It can be an incredibly daunting task. So, as the Queen Of Relaxed Networking and in honour of National Stress Awareness Day, I thought I’d take the opportunity to offer my top tips on how to network with as little stress as possible.
1) Find a networking group that works for you.
One way of reducing stress when networking, is to ensure that you’re comfortable in the environment that you’re networking in. So, before you attend any networking event, take some time to think about the sort of environment you would feel comfortable meeting new people in and do a bit of research into the different types of networking available to you in your local area and see which networking events would best suit you and your needs.
There are many variables when it comes to networking such as style, format, time, location, requirements to attend, open or closed networking etc. All of these variables affect different people in different ways, for example, you may prefer a more relaxed format of networking as it gives you the freedom to network with others in your own way and in your time or you might prefer a more structured format as it offers guidance and if you know the format in advance it can also enable you to plan ahead. Both can be beneficial to someone who is lacking in confidence but your final choice of event would just depend on whether you prefer to be left to your own devices or not.
Regardless of your needs, there are many events with many different variables and you should choose one that appeals to you most. After all, people buy from people and the only way you will shine, is if you are comfortable and confident in an environment that enables you to feel that way.
2) Don’t rush into it!
Networking events tend to be busy and fast-paced as it’s all centred around meeting a large group of people in a fairly short amount of time. It’s akin to speed-dating, in that you only really have a few minutes to get a good sense of someone before having to move onto the next.
Regardless of the type of networking event, it can be quite an intimidating environment to be faced with and many find themselves initially overwhelmed. At this moment, it can be tempting to just “dive in at the deep end”, “rip off the band-aid” so to speak, as it’s often felt that putting it off just makes matters worse. In my experience, rushing into networking when feeling overwhelmed is probably the worst thing you could do. It can cause you to become extremely flustered and consequently, come across to others as though you don’t know what you’re talking about, which would render the whole experience pointless. Ask yourself, would you be confident that the extremely flustered person you just met, would successfully deliver the products or services that they’re promoting?
So, when you first enter the networking event, ensure that you take the time to just take everything in. Ground yourself. Let yourself acclimatise to your surroundings. So that as in when you do meet that first person, you’re truly ready and come across as calm, collected and confident.
3) Build connections, not customers.
It’s easy to feel that to be successful at networking events, you must make sales from every event but don’t feel disappointed if you don’t. The most important thing is to make connections. Remember, it takes many skills to successfully run a business or organisation and creating connections can help you to better your own skills and provide you with people who’s skills you can use to undertake tasks that could better your business or organisation and that you wouldn’t have been able to do previously.
It’s also important to remember the six or three and a half, as Facebook suggests, degrees of networking. The person you have connected with may not be directly interested in your products or services but they may know someone who is.
So, don’t limit your potential gains by focusing purely on trying to generate sales. Be open and take human approach. Get to know people. The more people like you, the more likely are to refer you on or help you in other ways.
In summary, networking can be a task filled with joy and promise as long as you remember to make sure that the events you choose to attend are the right ones for you, that you take your time to make sure that you’re ready to take on the networking environment ahead of you and that you go with an open mind because you just don’t know where opportunity might come from.
Still unsure where to start when networking? Stay cool with I.C.E!
Introduce Yourself – It’s really simple. Pick someone, say hello and tell them your name.
Contribute – There are many ways to gain a connection through networking, such as participating in a discussion and creating interesting conversation, you could help somebody by recommending another business/organisation that you know or by recommending a particular product/service, you could offer someone some advice from your own experiences or expertise or alternatively you could even ask for advice on something you may need help with.
Whilst, someone expressing interest in your business is great, remember that you don’t have to make a sale with every conversation. It’s ok to just focus on meeting new people and getting to know them. After all, you never know where those conversations might lead you and the more connections you make, the more likely opportunity is to come knocking at your door!
Explore – You’ve done it! The hard part is over. You’ve made those all-important introductions and gained some new contacts.
After the event, increase the likelihood of opportunity coming your way by reaching out to your new contacts, while you’re still fresh in their minds and arrange to meet up and get to know them further. You may discover new ways of helping each other.