Networking is one of those things that for some people just comes naturally. They can sail into a room, meet new people and share their business card with ease. Other people are shy, and would rather wait in line at the DMV for six hours than network with a room full of people.
What’s the difference? Confident networkers are comfortable making their own introductions, and therefore find it easier to meet new people. Shy networkers are uncomfortable making their own introductions, and therefore wait for someone else to make the introduction.
If the thought of networking in the New Year sends a shudder up your spine, here are some easy approaches that will help you feel more comfortable and confident.
#1 Own your Space (own your power)
Whether it’s a conference or a meeting how you enter a space makes a huge difference. If you find yourself dragging your heels and avoiding eye contact, you are unconsciously letting the world think that you lack confidence. When you enter a space smiling, making eye contact and speaking to the people you meet as you go; you’re consciously telling the world that you belong.
For example, during trade show set-up at this year’s APMP BPC in Denver, I tried to greet each and every fellow vender with a smile and a “Hello, how’re you?” Or “Ready for a great Conference?” Or “I’m Cheryl, drop by our booth!”
At first, they all seemed a bit confused. We are, after all, most of us, competitors. But, career-wise, they are also fellow professionals. By the next day, they were saying “hello” to me, introducing themselves, and introducing me to other new people.
#2 Table for Two (or three)
Lunch at APMP is a busy time, and even confident networkers can turn shy when faced with a ballroom full of tables and strangers. You want to network, but you don’t want to butt-in.
If you find yourself scanning the room for an empty table while your lunch goes cold, you’re unconsciously letting the world think you want to be left alone. When you walk up to a table and ask to join you’re consciously telling the world you have something to offer.
I like to reserve lunch time for meeting someone new. I ditch my team and find a table of one to three people, people I haven’t met yet. Me and my lunch approach with a smile and ask, “May I join you?”
As I sit, their conversation continues, and I enjoy listening to them swap proposal war stories and ideas learned from their morning sessions while I eat my lunch. Eventually they naturally turn to me, curious. I answer their questions and share one of my war stories; the time the van carrying my proposal to its destination was quarantined by a chemical spill on 95 four hours before the deadline. That afternoon, they both individually stopped by our booth to learn more, and I invited them to our party where they introduced me to even more new people.
#3 Rescue the Wallflowers
By the time THE TARATM, this year’s networking festival, rolled around; everyone was in full networking mode. New friends were playing corn hole and swapping best practices. Old friends were talking about tomorrow’s sessions and rolling up their pant legs for the traditional fountain photograph.
If you find yourself skirting the festival room or loitering by the food, you’re unconsciously letting the world think you’re avoiding them. When you walk up to the bar and start asking people how this morning’s sessions were, you’re consciously telling the world you’re curious about them and what they think.
If I’m feeling too nervous for the bar, I look for people I’ve already met and join them to reconnect on whatever we were talking about earlier. Or, I look for the wallflowers; people who want to network but may be too shy to introduce themselves. Once we get to chatting, and I learn more about them and what they’re curious about, I introduce them to someone I know with similar interests.
Striking up a conversation with a stranger is not easy, even for confident networkers. The difference is finding a way to be comfortable and confident with introducing yourself. So, the next time you’re feeling nervous walking into a conference or a meeting; take a deep breath. Remind yourself that you deserve to be here, you have a reason to be here, and you have something valuable to offer.
Still shy? Give yourself an even bigger reason to be there; get involved with the planning committee or the agenda. You’ll have fun, contribute, learn something new and meet lots of new, interesting people along the way.