Are you a natural extrovert? Can you walk into a crowded room and talk to the first person you see? Kudos to you!
Not everyone has this ability. It may seem that some people can do this and some simply can’t but what is surprising is that many people who are “naturals” at this have had to work over years to get good at it*.
What is your first thought as you enter a room full of people at a networking event, trade show, or other social occasion? Do you get sweaty palms? Do your thoughts race? Do you feel that everyone is staring at you and can see your sweaty palms and thoughts racing? (They can’t see either, nor are they all truly watching you.)
As someone who was not a “natural” at comfortably walking into a room, I’ve worked to overcome my fears related to diving in to a social event where I know very few, if any, attendees. The following list is what has worked for me.
7 Ways to Network When It Is Uncomfortable To You
- Take a deep breath before you talk in to the room. No, really. You’ll feel a bit closer to calm. Know that you’re going to be fine as long as you keep breathing. Realize that most people in that room will not turn as soon as you walk in, and will not judge you at that moment. Yes, some people will be exceptions to this but they will stick out to other attendees who will subconsciously move away from them. Most people are more interested in themselves than the latest person who walked into the room. Many of us who are “millennials” spent our childhoods learning that we are unique, amazing creatures. As adults most of us have learned that this is simply not the case. Yes, you are unique. No, everyone is probably not looking at you.
- Find the place to check-in. This gives you a mission to accomplish and something to think about rather than standing in the doorway awkwardly trying to think again. Cue sweaty palms and racing thoughts.
- View your fellow attendees as your next friends/connections, depending on the type of event. They’re just friends you haven’t met yet! Yes, you’ve probably heard this before. Shifting to a positive mindset can help many situations and this is certainly one of them. If you encounter someone who doesn’t share the same positive outlook, move on.
- Remember that others have the same feeling about this situation as you. You are not alone. Nearly everyone has some sort of hesitation in a social situation where everyone is a new potential friend/connection. (See what I did there?) Know that if you feel stuck with nothing to say, that you can always strike up a conversation with someone else who has the same look as you. They’ll appreciate having someone else to talk with just as you will.
- If all else fails, take a break. Find a quiet corner of the room and go back to a few deep breaths. No harm is taking a minute or two to pull yourself back together.
- Set a goal of speaking to up to five people, not the whole room. The best networking happens when you have genuine conversations. Set a goal of talking with up to five people so you can make connections with each of them.
- Have an exit strategy. Know that you can leave when you are ready or when you need to leave. You don’t need to stay for the entire event (most of the time).
Does this still seem a bit advanced to you?
Here are a few additional ideas to help you along.
- Bring a wingman. Yep, not to help you land a date. Just so you know that you have someone to talk to if the event gets too rough. Share your strategies with them before you get to the event so they can help you when needed.
- Be someone else. Have you been on stage before? Played with kids? Remember playing different roles as a kid? Any of this helps you step into the character of someone who is ready to tackle your event. Try to be you, just a happily social “you”.
Does this work for everyone? Of course not!
No set of strategies will work for everyone but this is how I’ve explained the process to many, many people over my career.
What strategies do you employ in order to get yourself to networking events? How do you handle the negative thoughts that creep into your mind? Let me know in the comments below, by catching up with me on Facebook or emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear what works for you!
* This is my own opinion based on my own experiences. I realize that those with true, clinical anxieties may need help other than strategies outlined here in order to attend a networking event.