by Kristen King,
For some reason, networking has this really bad reputation as being something only used car salesmen or cutthroat politicians do to get what they want.
But there is nothing nefarious about networking. It’s all about getting to know people with whom you have a common interest, and that, quite frankly, is a heck of a lot of fun.
Unless you literally never leave your house, you already have all of the skills you need to be a successful networker because you use them every day when you interact with coworkers, service providers, people standing in like at the dry cleaners—every social situation you encounter on a daily basis.
Here are some tips to help you get past the “I hate networking” roadblock:
1. Stop telling yourself you’re bad at networking. It’s like walking down a long staircase and telling yourself you’re about to fall—it’s just not a good idea. Instead, think about what you might learn by attending an event, or how interesting it might be to meet someone new. You don’t have to be all, “I’m smart enough, I’m good enough, and gosh darn it, people like me,” though you certainly can if you want to. Just don’t shoot yourself in the foot before you start running the race. Or something.
2. Make a point to recognize those professional networking opportunities that happen in day-to-day life. In the waiting room at the dentist’s. At the grocery store. On a plane. You’re surrounded by potential resources, collaborators, and customers virtually everywhere you go, and it’s easy to make those connections if you’re alert. I ended up exchanging business cards with a guy on my plane back from a conference after we started chit-chatting about something in SkyMall and the conversation turned to our jobs. It turned out we were both interested in what the other does for a living. That was networking! And even though it was four years ago, we are still in touch.
3. Put yourself out there. I guarantee that no matter where you live, there is some happening somewhere nearby where you can practice your networking skills. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce. Visit the website of an organization that interests you to see what events they have coming up. Maybe the local university or community college has a speaker you like followed by a cocktail reception. Create opportunities to meet strangers and learn about them.
4. Practice your pickup line. I have three that work really well for me, and which one I choose depends on the situation:
- “Hi, what brings you here?” (variation, depending on your perception of the other person’s sense of humor: “What’re you in for?”);
- “Hey there, mind if I join you? I’m Kristen, what’s your name? What do you do, NAME?”; and
- “Hi, I’m Kristen. I don’t think I’ve met you yet. How’s your evening/morning/day going so far?”
If you noticed that they’re basically all the same, pat yourself on the back. People are so happy that someone is talking to them at these things, they don’t care what you say as long as you say something and make an effort to start the conversation.
5. Set small goals. If you go into a crowded room with the idea in your head that you have to meet everyone there and speak to tons of strangers, no wonder you’re stressed out! Try breaking it down to something small: Talk to one stranger. Ask for one person’s business card. Raise your hand and ask a question if there’s a presenter. Give yourself a goal to reach, and then give yourself a reward when you get there.
I know these sound basic, but trust me, they work if you really apply these ideas. All of them.
If you stop telling yourself you’re bad at networking but then you never make any attempt to do it, it’s hard to have faith in your skills. If you attend events but refuse to talk to anyone there, it’s hard to get more comfortable with the idea.
Today, pick a FIRST STEP toward more confident networking. What do you want to do? It can be something small, even silly.
For me, I had to break a bad habit. Every time I go to an event, I always gravitate toward people I know.
A couple of years ago I traveled out of state to a strange city for a conference where I literally knew no one. It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time. I was surrounded by strangers, so it wasn’t possible to fall in with a group of familiar faces—but I had to keep myself from clinging to the people I met the first afternoon. This was my goal going into it:
This weekend, I am going to make a point of sitting with people I don’t know every chance I get. Every meal, every presentation, every drink, every sight-seeing event. I will tell those people, “I’m trying to make a point of sitting with people I haven’t met yet so I can get to know more folks here. May I join you?” I will invite strangers to join me, especially people who look even more uncomfortable than I feel.
I’ll be honest: It was torture for the first couple of encounters, but then it got really fun. After that, local networking seemed like no big deal, and even big events like major national meetings became exciting instead of scary.
My first step was a big deal, but you don’t have to jump into the deep end like I did. What’s your step going to be? What do you want to work on or try for the first time, or maybe for the second time and really stick with it?
Kristen King is a writer, editor, and passionate networker who lives in Central Virginia with her husband and their 9-month-old twin sons. Visit her online at InkThinker Communications and her newest site, AmateurParenting.com.