Your network is your net worth.
It’s a cliché business sentiment you’ve likely heard before. And, it definitely holds some water. Networking is important for building both a solid professional reputation and a powerful web of contacts.
But, let’s face the facts: The word “networking” alone is enough to inspire visions of cringe-worthy conversations and awkwardly long silences over glasses of cheap, watery wine.
So, needless to say, today’s “Dear Kat” question is an important one:
I know that networking is important. But, every time I head to an event or attempt to strike up a professional or career-related conversation with someone, I feel so uncomfortable. Do you have any tips to make me feel more secure and confident when networking?
First of all, I know that networking can seem like an incredibly forced exchange. But, done right, it doesn’t need to be a miserable experience. In fact, it can be super beneficial—and even enjoyable!
Not convinced? Here are four tips to help you feel a little more self-assured when networking (that don’t involve gulping down three glasses of that free wine).
1. Practice Your Elevator Pitch
Practicing for networking? The whole concept seems a little strange, doesn’t it? But, that old saying, “Practice makes perfect!” rings true.
Before heading to any sort of networking event, you’ll want to be armed and ready with your elevator pitch—your brief, impactful summary of who you are, what you do, and why you’re good at it. This doesn’t need to be anything complicated. Typically a sentence or two does the trick.
But, once you have an idea of what you’d like to say when introducing yourself, run through it a few times. Of course, you don’t want to become so rehearsed that you sound robotic. However, taking the time to practice even a little bit will ensure you can get that important information out without tripping over your words.
And, even further? You’ll save yourself from that horrifying moment when you can’t think of anything to say in response to, “So, tell me what you do!”.
2. Have a Plan
Creating a plan for yourself won’t be doable everywhere. But, this tactic can come in especially handy if you’re heading to a specific networking event—especially if you know ahead of time who will be in attendance.
Oftentimes, networking is anxiety-inducing because you don’t really have any idea what you should be doing. Of course, you know your goal is to make some connections. But, that typically means you end up wandering into a large room filled with strangers without any idea where to start.
If you have some information before a formal event, you can take a little bit of time to form a plan and develop your strategy. Is there somebody specific you’re hoping to meet? What are you hoping to accomplish? Are you looking to find people in a specific industry or who possess a certain skill?
Again, this won’t be feasible for every networking situation. But, if you have the necessary information to form some sort of strategy, coming armed with a rough plan in place will give you some confidence and direction.
3. Remember It’s a Two-Way Street
Here’s a key reason why so many people feel uneasy about networking: It’s often viewed as a completely selfish encounter. We all waltz into networking opportunities with a, “What’s in it for me?” sort of mentality. We’re all hoping to find a new job, meet a powerful contact, or score something else that benefits us.
This approach is enough to make anybody feel anxious—because there’s really nothing comfortable about that “me, me, me” perspective.
So, instead of thinking about what you’ll walk out of that room with, shift your focus to what you bring to the table. Knowing that you have something to offer other people—and not just request of them—is sure to give you a nice confidence boost.
4. Shift Your View
The thought of networking immediately inspires visions of a really formal exchange. But, it’s time for you to change your perspective. Networking doesn’t just need to happen over name tags and lukewarm appetizers.
At its core, networking is really just a conversation. And, as you already know, those can happen anywhere—in line at the grocery store, at your kid’s dance recital, or at an event filled with professionals.
So, don’t limit yourself by thinking that real networking only happens when you have your business cards in your hand and a misspelled name tag stuck to your lapel. Some of the best connections you make can happen at those times when you don’t expect it.
If you’re intimidated by the idea of networking, you’re not alone. Plenty of people find it to be an uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing concept.
But, it’s time to bid adieu to those shaky knees and sweaty palms. Remember these four tips, and you’re sure to present yourself as the calm, cool, and collected professional you are when networking!