The idea of networking is very overwhelming for a lot of people. Thinking about going to an event filled with strangers with the goal of connecting makes many shy away from intentional networking. Believe it or not, you are actually a professional networker. To network is to build a series of relationships and you have been doing this from day one. We are born into a network. Our families are networks of individuals that we hold relationships with and that are a resource to us. We go off to school and make friends. We go to work, church, and the gym and build new relationships all of the time. That is networking. The only difference between those examples and what we do when we go to networking events is the intention aspect. We don't really think of the relationships that we build while going about our everyday lives as networking, but as soon as we set out on a mission to intentionally connect with others for the purpose of reaching our professional or personal goals, it adds an intimidation factor for some.
I too have struggled with the concept of intentional networking, but have found comfort in the fact that I have been building connections all my life. I still find myself getting a bit anxious when it comes to intentional networking, but through research and having more of my own experiences I have found ways to lessen my anxiety. Below are some tips and tricks that I followed starting out which were inspired by what I had learned about networking and reflections on how I connect with people in my everyday life.
1. Know that you are enough. Insecurity was my number one reason for avoiding networking events and I know many others share this same struggle. We tend to be our own worst critic and that contributes to us getting in our own way when it comes to our goals. Just remind yourself that you are a human looking to connect with other humans. We all have something to offer and you are valuable. The world needs what you have to offer.
2. Practice your introduction. Having your introduction down can help alleviate some of the anxiety that comes with meeting new people. Introductions or elevator speeches change based on the type of event you are attending and your networking goals. If you are just getting comfortable with networking keep it simple. Your name, what you do, and what one of your goals is and/or who you are looking to connect with is a good starting point.
3. Have a goal. My goal when I began intentionally networking was to just get comfortable with being in different environments. I would attend networking events and not make a single connection. For me, it was just about getting out of my comfort zone. Once I had gone to a few events I was ready to move to my next goal of exchanging business cards with just one person. From there I began developing more specific goals around who or what type of individual I wanted to meet. Having goals helps you to remember to take it one step at a time and go at a pace that you are comfortable with.
4. Remember your everyday conversation starters. Basic conversation starters transcend environments. Think about conversations you have had while standing in the line at the grocery store or hanging out at the bar (not pickup lines). Did you see the game last night, that is a great dress, or that looks delicious are examples of everyday conversation starters that can be used in networking events. Asking someone about a drink they have ordered, giving a compliment, or discussing a game or popular show is a great way to start a conversation and begin finding commonalities to build on
5. Take a friend. Having a friend join you at a networking event is a great way to increase your comfort level. I can admit that I have dragged many friends to various events and having them there with me helped me a great deal. Be careful not to get in the habit of bringing a friend to only cling to them and not make new connections.
6. Arrive Early. Being the first at a networking event gave me the opportunity to enter the environment while it was still in a calm state and find individuals to connect with before groups had a chance to form.
7. Know Your Limits. Intentional networking is something that you want to build into your professional goals and it should not be something that you dread. When starting out you should not stress yourself out. You are already stepping out of your comfort zone so it is okay to recognize when you need a break and take one. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed it is okay to step away. Find a quiet space and just breathe or take a walk around the room and observe the artwork or decor. Once you feel up to it you can jump back into connecting.
I am not always comfortable with networking and these are still tips that I follow to this day. As I begin to host my own networking events I want to make sure that I am doing everything in my power to make all of my attendees comfortable before, during, and after and that is why I am sharing what I have found to be helpful. Relationships are powerful and the right ones can help us achieve our goals and dreams. Intentional networking is a tool to help you get to those powerful relationships and I hope that these steps help you get started. I leave you with my favorite quote from Neale Donald Walsch: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
I welcome your thoughts and any additional tips you may have for beginners.