There’s not many people who are ‘natural networkers’, who feel totally comfortable mingling in a room full of strangers.
It’s something I’ve had to work at as a businessman, which is why the horrified look I get from clients when I suggest they start networking doesn’t surprise me. The worry of feeling like an outsider in a group, combined with the terrifying possibility of having to stand up and say something, stop a lot of people embracing this element of marketing.
Public speaking remains one of the top fears amongst the business community. In fact, a poll in 2013 placed public speaking above death in a list of people’s greatest fears – which explains why many find the thought of networking nerve-wracking. The study even prompted the publication of a book ‘…and Death Came Third!: The Definitive Guide to Networking and Speaking in Public’ by Andy Lopata and Peter Roper. It’s worth a read if you want some lengthier advice on how to fight the fear.
I’ve heard some coaches tell their clients ‘practise makes perfect’ and advise them to just get out there and do it. I’ve also heard coaches come out with the old adage ‘do something every day that scares you, or pushes your boundaries’, but neither of these nuggets of advice really help dispel those nerves! What has proved helpful with some of my clients, however, is giving them a few facts to remember when they’re faced with entering and addressing a room full of business peers. So, I thought I’d share them with you.
Here are my top five fear-busting facts to take with you next time you go networking:
1 – Everyone else in the room is there to do the same as you – they want to talk to you and they want to hear what you have to say. And the majority probably have the same fears as you, some simply hide it better than others!
2 – Networking is simply about conversing with people. Whether you’re asked to tell one person or 20 about your business, think of it as nothing more than a conversation. Answer the question as if you were in a one-to-one situation – it’s exactly the same.
3 – No-one is waiting to throw rotten tomatoes at you – they want you to succeed.
4 – You don’t have to be an outgoing person to network, people will come to you. New faces at networking events are generally welcomed with open arms, it’s very rare you’ll be left a wilting wallflower. Embrace the interest and chat to people. They’ll usually do their best to help you feel at ease.
5 – Remember why you’re there. This is a business meeting, and it will make a difference to your business by being there. Focus on the goal, you want to meet like-minded professional people who you may be able to work with in the future. Put on your best professional persona – it helps keep the personal feelings under control.
It is true that your confidence will grow with experience, so although it may feel very strange and a little scary at first, it will get better. If you feel more comfortable taking a friend or colleague the first time, then do that. It never hurts to have a friendly face in the crowd and a fallback to talk to.
Just don’t let the fear stand in your way!