Anyone who has had experience with anxiety (so, everyone) knows that one of the most stressful things to put yourself through is a networking event. You’re surrounded by strangers and socially expected not only to talk to people, but to impress them…it’s an introvert’s nightmare. For most of us, these events never become second nature like they seem to for our coworkers and fellow entrepreneurs, but there are ways to make them survivable that don’t include copious amounts of stress-eating. Here are a few ways to network when you’re not feeling sociable:
Set a goal
Standing around not speaking to anyone will undoubtedly mean striking out and going home with not one business card in your pocket. But seeing a whole room of people and feeling pressure to talk to every single one of them can cause even more stress, and it’s hard to know which is worse for your wellbeing. Set a goal for yourself that involves speaking to five people, giving business cards out to three people, or even just having one worthwhile, meaningful chat with one person to create a greater connection and working relationship down the line. Setting a goal that works for you means you have something to focus on, and you’re not mindlessly mingling and causing yourself more stress than is necessary.
Rehearse an elevator pitch
It’s everyone’s least favourite phrase, the ‘elevator pitch’, but there is a reason it’s so relevant to business events. Your elevator pitch is a short spiel that you give people to sum up your business or what you do in a concise way. Giving a long, complicated speech to someone will only put them off, so having a short soundbite is more effective and works in favour of those who don’t want to be caught up in a long conversation. If you’re worried about speaking at length to people about the ins and outs of your life, then rehearse a simple, short introduction to your business (just like if you were learning lines for a play) and pretty soon you’ll be so used to saying it that you’ll no longer worry about being asked.
If in doubt, ask questions. And keep asking. Remember that most people respond well when they get to talk about themselves, so asking as many questions about their business as you can think of will only make them like you more. Rehearse a few standard questions that you can reel off at a moment’s notice (How is business going this quarter? Do you have a team or do you work alone? What is the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome? Etc.) and if you run out of awkward small talk, just fire those questions at your new friend – they’ll love it.
Lean on your business card, and leave early
If you’re feeling so nervous about a networking event that you really don’t want to be there, don’t put yourself through anything that makes you uncomfortable. A good way to cut out early is to rely on your business cards. Whip them out and approach any people that you have seen in the program or speaking at the event that look relevant to your business. Hand them a business card and say “I have to run unfortunately but I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet you properly! Here is my business card if you would like to work together in future. Pop me over an email if you’d like to chat further.” And then you’re out of there! No awkwardness, no questions, just a straight-to-the-point introduction. This is definitely not the best way to be memorable in a networking situation because having a real conversation is more likely to secure the relationship that you want, however as a last resort it is a great way to make sure your business card is in their pocket.
Follow up with everyone
If you can’t face a networking event or the idea of sticking around to talk to anyone afterwards, the best way to make the most of the event regardless is to take down the information of the speakers and see if you can download an attendee list from the organiser. Send everyone an email telling them how sorry you were to have missed it and that you’d like to learn more about what they do. Most people will be happy that you followed up and you will potentially have the chance to talk one-to-one with them instead of at a busy event.
Remember that you can use these tips to become more comfortable with networking, but it’s always a good idea to try to improve your skills in this area in order to meet more people that can help your business.
What are your tips for navigating the awkward world of networking events? Let us know how you handle it!