It usually starts with sweaty palms and a dry throat. Those physical manifestations of the apprehension you felt all day leading up to this moment. You walk through the door and it does not abate. You quickly try and scan the room to see if you recognize anyone. And you don’t.
Even though I make a habit of going to multiple networking events, I still feel this wave of apprehension. And you might feel it too. It is a pretty physical manifestation of knowing you are about to be in a place where you will have to put in some extra energy. Networking does not come easy to everyone. You know in your head you want to meet people, but another part of you does not want to expend the energy.
Usually I find the best way to beat this apprehension is to tackle it straight on, by coming at it in small bite sized pieces. Have a few concepts at the front of your mind and be ready to execute. Here are some of my favorite for you introverts out there:
1. Become the best listener in the room
Often one of the big apprehensions I face, you may face as well, is that you might not have anything to talk about. Turn that into a strength. People will feel an affinity for you if you are a good listener. So that apprehension at not knowing what to say, can actually become your strength. Feel free to tell someone, “I’d like to hear more about what you do.”
2. Have some default questions
It’s all fine and good to talk about being a good listener, but sometimes in case there is all in the conversation, it’s good to have some questions in your pocket. I find 3-5 are perfectly adequate. Make sure you are ready to be able to ask something that start to conversation or keeps it going.
How do you do it? Relate to the last thing said or a previous topic in discussion. Where did the conversation leave off? Can you state your opinion on it? Can you ask them a deeper question? Can you share a story that relates to it? Read the section about “hook points” in my conversationalist article for reference.
Make an observational/situational statement. Spontaneously comment on something you can see with your eyes. That could be anything about what they’re wearing, the venue you’re in, or a person around you, etc.
3. Do some pre-networking
If at all possible, see if you can meet with someone who will be at a networking event before you actually get there. Now days it is pretty easy to see who will be at a networking event. If you are going to something hosted on Facebook or Meetup or something that uses one of their plugins (like eventbrite), the internet will tell you who is going to an event. This is not a full proof plan, but if you can, see who is going. Maybe there will be someone you know who you can agree to rendezvous with. Sometimes I find it helpful to reach out to someone going to a networking event I will be at and simply asking if they care to meet before the event itself as you are looking to know a friendly face when you get there.
4. Pay attention to one person at a time
Most importantly, it can be very overwhelming to think of ALL of the people you will meet at a networking event. Instead, remember that the best connections are made one on one. So how do you encourage that? Focus on people one at a time. Don’t worry about how you need to meet many people, just focus on the person in front of you when you are in front of him or her.