On your way to a networking event, have you ever worried, “What if I don’t know anyone?”
While it might make you uncomfortable, not knowing anyone forces you to use your networking skills. Too many people go to a function and sit in the corner with their friends, co-workers, spouse, whoever. That’s a waste of time. If you’re going to do that, just go to a restaurant.
If you find networking a little overwhelming, you’re not alone. Many professionals who are good at networking have had to work hard to make it look that way. Sure, some people are naturally gregarious, but they are the exception, not the norm. It is natural to feel tinges of uneasiness when you attend a networking function by yourself where you know nobody.
Here are eight things you can do to make you feel more comfortable:
1. Practice Makes Perfect
There’s nothing wrong with rehearsing how you’ll act in a networking encounter in the privacy of your home or office. Some people even practice in front of a mirror.
2. Study Master Networkers
Think of someone you know who is socially gifted, very at ease working a room. Watch that person. Study that person. Think how you can imitate him/her. Each time you go to a networking event, do something he/she does. Instead of reinventing the networking wheel, figure out how you can mimic someone who has already figured it out.
3. Do Something with Your Hands
Holding a drink at a social function can help you be more comfortable. If you’re a non-drinker, there’s nothing wrong with holding a soda. The drink is useful, because it gives you something to do with your hands.
4. Positive Vision
Another way of dealing with shyness is to envision success before going to an event. Like a coach mentally preparing athletes for a big game, you can increase your likelihood for success by imagining yourself doing well in a social situation. Sit down and envision yourself saying the right things, using good interpersonal skills and being professionally assertive. If you do this regularly, you will evolve into a graceful networker.
5. Brush It Off
Operating out of your comfort zone can increase introversion tendencies. Some networkers worry they will say the wrong thing and sound stupid. Others are afraid to “interrupt” someone at a party. Others fear they might be “rejected” when they reach out to another person. Even as an established professional, it is an unpleasant experience to introduce yourself and attempt to carry on a conversation with someone who is clearly uninterested in you. When it happens to you, just brush it off and go to the next person.
When someone gives you a cold shoulder, it likely means that person’s problems are greater than yours.
6. Pair Busting
Periodically, you’ll find yourself at a networking event, standing by yourself with nobody to talk to. You look around the room and everyone is already engaged in conversation with someone else. There are no other “single” people. It can feel unnerving. When this happens, it’s time to be a pair buster.
Simply look around for a pair of people and walk toward them. Don’t worry if you feel like you’re interrupting. Just go up to the pair and introduce yourself. Be assertive. Sometimes it helps to say, “Mind if I join you?” in a joking sort of way. Ninety-five percent of the pairs you bust open, will welcome you. The other five percent are not worthy of your attention.
7. Welcome Others
When you are already talking to someone else and a third person tries to bust into your pair, be sure to make that person feel welcome. Treat the conversational newcomer the same way you would like to be treated. Don’t act as if you’re inconvenienced. Just introduce yourselves and allow the person to feel part of the group.
The tone of your voice and your body language will help make such a person feel more welcome. Slightly turn your body toward the new person. If the person comes in mid-conversation, explain what you have been talking about in an effort to bring the new person up to speed.
8. Connecters Have the Power
Networking gives you the opportunity to be a “connecter,” a person who introduces two people to each other. Go out of your way to connect others to each other. If you connect two people who end up doing business together, you have earned social capital. The two people who profited from that relationship will always appreciate you and owe you a debt of gratitude.
Connecting also helps mitigate shyness. Instead of focusing on the stress of networking, make it your mission to find people you already know but who don’t know each other. You could make a game out of it.