How To Successfully Navigate Networking Events (When You Dread Them)
People like to hire, work with, work for, etc. people they know and like. The best way to have a wide circle of people who can recommend or refer you for whatever is to have a wide circle of people who know, like, and understand the value you bring.
Networking on business and social platforms like LinkedIn and, more recently, Clubhouse is a wonderful way to expand your circle. But as in-person networking resumes, it’s time to start preparing for that as well.
For many, in-person networking events means stepping out of our comfort zone. Stepping into a room full of strangers can be a little scary. If we’re fine with that, we may not be quite sure what to do when we get there.
While reading this may not make you eager to sign up for an association dinner, mastering the following techniques can help you become more comfortable and, as a result, become a better connector.
#1 Go to Events Alone
One of the best ways to meet people at events is to go alone. For a lot of people, like me, association lunches and dinners, often with a speaker, top the list of networking events. And most of us go with friends and/or spend time with people we know once we get there which defeats the purpose.
The next time you attend an event nix the buddy system. That doesn’t mean you should avoid people you know. Just be sure to meet some new ones. If you do go with a friend or colleague, agree that you’ll sit at different tables during dinner. That gives you the opportunity to meet twice as many new people.
#2 Quiet Your Inner Voice
You know the voice I’m talking about. It’s that little voice in your head that starts talking at the most inopportune times and never says things like “you’re rocking it!” This is why it’s often referred to as the inner critic. Whatever you call it, it can sabotage your best efforts.
When it starts saying things like “I probably don’t look professional enough” or “Nobody wants to talk to me” force yourself to turn it OFF. Bear in mind 1) the value you bring to the conversation and 2) most of the other people there aren’t as confident as they seem.
#3 Know Your Style
Do you dominate the conversation? Or do you stand silently on the edge of the group? Once you acknowledge your style you can adjust it as needed.
If you enjoy being the center of attention, make sure you give others the opportunity to speak. Invite others into a group and into the conversation. Ask for their ideas.
If you’d rather stick needles in your eyes than talk to strangers, push yourself to join a group and join the conversation. An easy way to do that is to add your thoughts to someone else’s comment or pose a question.
When looking around and deciding who to approach consider 3 or more people chatting are likely having a general discussion and someone standing alone would love to have you come up and talk to them.
Get over the fear of talking to strangers by striking up a conversation with someone at the grocery or while waiting in line at a snack bar. Much to my husband’s embarrassment, I talk to strangers all the time. I met someone who knew several members of the Hamilton cast while waiting in line during the show’s intermission that way.
The next time you attend an event, practice these techniques. The more you force yourself to get out there, the easier it will become. I promise.