If you’re nervous about networking, you need a game plan.
I know I definitely am. It comes in waves. Sometimes it’s okay, especially if I’m likely to know quite a few people there, and getting stuck on my own isn’t a problem.
But sometimes, if my confidence is low, it can be really uncomfortable to find yourself in a room full of loud, chattering people – feeling in inadequate and totally alone.
If you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to get a handle on yourself while the situation is happening. That’s why you need a game plan. Because there’s no point in letting insecurities defeat you, so we have to plan for them ahead of time.
Step 1: Set goals for your networking event to make it less emotional. My goals are a) speak to 5 people at this event, and 2) Ask at least one question during the talk. Asking questions makes you feel more involved and part of the event, and makes it easier to talk to people later.
Step 2: If you’re like me and hate loud noise, make your way to the edge of the crowd. Remember that the noisiest, busiest time is when people first get there, or when they first have the opportunity to stand up and chat. Move to the edges at these times, where you’ll be able to focus better.
Step 3: Make your way to the drinks and food table for a distraction. That’s exactly what this table is for! Take your time in selecting a drink or looking at the food. Hovering around this table is where you’ll be able to make small talk with other people doing the same thing.
Step 4: Walk right up to someone else who is by themselves and start a conversation. There will at least be one other person on their own, and they’ll probably be grateful to you. Make sure you plan your questions in advance so you don’t feel overwhelmed by pressure. You can ask things like: What brought you here? What is your business? Did you enjoy the talk?
Step 5: Don’t treat it like a proper ‘networking’ event. The goal is just to build on the number of people you know in your industry, and not to collect business cards (do people have those anymore?). Think about your future in this industry and the importance of being able to have connections, find opportunities and make friends. It’s not calculated if you love what you do.
This is my rough and ready guide to networking. Don’t feel bad if you’re not very good at it – it’s better just to be genuine and humble. Practice really does make perfect, and the more events you go to, the better you’ll get. Plus, you’ll start to see lots of the same faces again!
Voila! You are a networker.
Catherine Heath is a freelance writer in software and marketing. She’s obsessed with the field of personality systems theory. She also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature.