As odd as it sounds, people would rather die than walk into a room of strangers and talk to them! It makes no logical sense to me, but deep in the shadow of my childhood fears, I can still hear my mother’s warning, “Don’t talk to strangers!”Decades later that modern “monster under the bed” still grabs our feet making us recoil horrified at the prospect of speaking to a room full of strangers. Instead we slip quietly into the room. Avoiding eye-contact, we slink toward the back of the room, anywhere but out in the open where the people are!
We fiddle with our phones, we pretend we’re busy. We distract ourselves, all the while feeling frustrated at our weakness. Our lack of courage. Our inaction. If we’re not careful that feeling will chase us from the room, once again confirming our belief “networking isn’t for us.” It’s a vicious cycle and something to avoid.
Firstly you need to give your head a shake. People don’t bite – unless you’re at a “special party” and the bartender is wearing rubber … in which case you’ve lost me and I suggest you move along – there’s nothing to see here.
But if you’re at a B2B networking event where people are clothed in business attire, chatting in small groups to other people of similar dress, then you’re definitely in the right place and there are some things you need to remember.
(1) People go to networking events to talk to other people. They want to connect. They want to know each other. They want to discover commonalities – that’s how it works.
(2) Everyone gets nervous. It’s normal, it means you give a damn – you care. You want to do good, to make a positive impression. You don’t want to waste your time or theirs. That’s good. Just don’t let the “nerves” stop you. Slowly take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds and then slowly exhale. Smile as you do it. Now put one foot in front of the other and walk into the room.
(3) Its’ NOT about selling. People get too hung up on the idea you’re supposed to be some super salesman. That’s all wrong, it’s about connecting not convincing. It’s about finding common ground, not working the room. When you meet people you simply smile, extend your hand and say, “Hello, my name is James, what do you do?” Of course I recommend you use your own name …
(4) You’re not interrupting. When you walk up to a small group of people pay attention to their body language and facial expressions. If the group seems ‘open,’ stand at the edge and listen. Smile. Wait for it … Someone will invite you in. Then you do the whole ‘stick out your hand, smile and say “Hello, my name is …”‘ and take if from there. If the group is closed or it’s only two people with their feet pointing toward each other then smile and move on. Basically it’s all about manners – don’t intrude and don’t be rude. Simple.
(5) Make it about them. If you forget everything else, remember this: MAKE IT ABOUT THEM. Because soon enough they’ll make it about you if you ask good questions. Be curious. Find out what they do. Listen. Pay a genuine compliment when you can. Avoid the touchy topics like looks, clothing, sex, politics and religion. Try to compliment their work. For instance, I love it when people figure out how much time I spend writing and say something nice about how I make it look easy.
Remember, at the end of the day networking isn’t about working the room, it’s about turning a roomful of strangers into friends … one person at a time. And be patient, growing strong relationships takes time so relax, take a deep breath and smile.
Oh, and one parting thought for you … I’m not an extrovert, I’m introverted. Introverts aren’t incapable of networking – we just do it differently. It’s not all about the wow, it’s about the now – being present and truly connecting with people. Many extroverts draw their energy and enthusiasm from the room (which is often why it’s not as hard for them to network.) Most introverts draw their energy from within – which is why it’s often so draining afterwards but equally rewarding.
I guess what I want you take away is that you’ve probably been thinking about networking in the wrong way. Forget the sales pitches. Make friends. Take is easy. Take a breath. Smile. Whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert doesn’t matter … I’m a Gemini – so what right? Precisely. Have some fun and for the umpteenth time … SMILE, they won’t bite … unless the bartender is wearing rubber in which case you’re own your own bucko!