Conferences, conventions, and other industry parties are just some of the occasions where networking plays a vital part for an entrepreneur or business owner. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a newbie, it’s all too easy to stay in your comfort zone. Playing with your phone or talking exclusively to people you already know is a waste of a valuable opportunity to further your roster of contacts.
Networking is one part of business that many people – even those who’ve found success – struggle with. It can feel unnatural and awkward, and while there are a great many individuals who really excel in that environment, it can still be a nerve-wracking experience.
If the prospect of introducing yourself to a stranger makes you break into a sweat, look to the following tips for advice:
Create an Elevator Pitch
Summarize who you are and what you do in 20 seconds or less. Don’t just give a job title, make it interesting and alive! What’s the gist of what you do? What’s your career motto? What are you passionate about? Distilling this in advance and having your “pitch” ready ahead of time will make you more memorable in people’s eyes. If you keep it brief, you won’t have to worry about boring anyone. Also, unless it’s obvious, consider adding some more information about why you’re at the event.
Prepare Your Small Talk
One of the aspects of networking that many find the most uncomfortable is small talk. Chatting with someone you’ve only just met can be tricky for some people, but at a networking event it’s par for the course. Having your “elevator pitch” ready to go might help get your foot in the proverbial conversational door, but you can avoid awkwardness after that by preparing yourself to be sociable, even if it means getting out of your comfort zone. Reading books, watch movies, or listening to music or podcasts in your spare time can also augment your small-talk toolbox. Discussing an interesting business or motivational book could lead to a great conversation with someone you’ve just met (or you could just end up talking about Game of Thrones). It helps to create a list of books, movies, shows, and other things in that vein to check out at the beginning of each month.
Look the part, and you’ll be on your way towards acting the part. Determine what persona you want to convey about yourself with your wardrobe. Are you young and bold? Elegant and timeless? Use your clothes to communicate and people will listen without you uttering a sound. Looking sharp will also boost your confidence and make it easier to approach people and break the ice.
Strike a Pose
Madonna had it right, as did psychologist Amy Cuddy, who recommends that you hold a power pose for two minutes every day. (Think of a superhero’s stance, legs apart and hands on hips.) Enter the event with all the confidence you can muster and maintain a positive attitude. Plenty of studies have traced the link between confidence and performance and striking a Wonder Woman-like pose in the mirror for two minutes a day will make you feel invincible and chase away that anxiety.
Mind Your Plan
Know your endgame and keep it in mind. Are you looking to just have fun and make some new business contacts? Do you have a more specific objective, such as making inroads in a specific industry or at certain company, or gathering five business cards? Is there a particular person you want to talk to? Whatever your goal, keep it in mind and stick to your plan.
Approach Pairs of People
This is easier than approaching groups of people, as pairs are usually more open to meeting new people. Before you approach, look at their body language; if it’s outward-facing, then chances are they would welcome a friendly “hello” from you. Approach casually and introduce yourself.
Follow Up Within a Few Days
Take the initiative to contact the people you met, whether it’s a friendly email, text message, or social media DM. You may have a solid new business connection or a link to another industry, or even a new friend. Keep it light and conversational, and you’ll probably be surprised at how open they are to a follow-up.
Utilize these tips and you’ll soon find yourself more and more comfortable working the room. Being able to successfully navigate a networking situation can have incredible benefits to your career and business. Before long, you’ll be looking forward to the next conference on your calendar.
Nezha Boutamine | Contributing Writer