There are few people who are genuinely unaffected when meeting strangers for the first time. Most people get a little nervous when delivering a lecture or a speech or mingling with unknown people. Because of this, networking events can be intimidating. They combine the pressure of talking about field expertise with the unease you feel when talking to a stranger.
When done right, networking events provide you with an essential resource that you would otherwise have to work hard for in other situations – people’s contact information. If you are attending a networking summit and are unsure how to make the most out of it, here are three tips to help you:
1. Have a purpose for attending
You should be certain about what you intend to achieve after going to the event. If it is your first networking mixer, you must start small; perhaps aim to know five people from your industry, whom you can refer to for consultations or collaborations back at your company. Really get granular with this, especially if you are a middle manager. Which department or team do you want to put in touch with your fellow attendee? Which project will you mention as a possible collaboration, and why?
If you’re attending as a job hunter, you should also define your goals. Are you searching for a company to join, or are you looking for a consultant, investors, career coach, possible business partner, or clients? Answering these questions will help you decrease your nervousness around the event itself. Part of what makes people anxious about networking is that it is nebulous, so give yourself clarity and determine your reason for going to the event.
2. Be an active participant in conversations
Networking, when you think of it, is all a series of conversations. You would not want to engage someone in conversation if they do not seem willing to reciprocate, so avoid doing this to people as well. Show that you are interested in your fellow attendees beyond their business card and the title on it. Pay attention to what they are saying; chances are, they are nervous too, and it would make both of you feel better if you could put them at ease.
Make it a point to learn something about each person’s job and the company they work for. Not only is it good manners, but it will also help you build better rapport with them. Furthermore, knowing deeper-level information will help you reconnect with them long after business cards have been traded and you had all gone back to your own headquarters. Adding a personal line or two in your follow-up email will help them warm up to what you have to say.
3. Prepare speeches for entering, introducing and leaving
The hardest part of talking to someone new is starting a conversation. A stranger is a blank slate, and you never know what type of person you are dealing with until you start talking. For moments like these, have a stock of go-to phrases, which you know you can confidently deliver. You can practice these if you feel awkward about them, and put feelings behind the words.
If you have a set of phrases for when you must introduce yourself, enter a conversation or leave, you can smoothly move to focus on your partner and what they are saying. Most people get caught up in what to say about themselves, so avoid fumbling in the conversation, and you’ll instantly come across as confident and attentive.
Networking is a hurdle that many people can overcome with ease. Recognise that everyone in an event like this feels some anxiousness about it, and work on ways to minimise your own. If you do, you will be in a better position to help others alleviate their nervousness, which makes them grateful for your presence and more receptive to your words – a win-win situation for all.
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