Me before networking: “I don’t want to do this.”
Me during networking: “I don’t want to do this.”
Do you ever have those days where you feel super-confident? You know … you’re dressed the part, you say the right things, you’re working the room, making new contacts and there’s not a single ghastly nervous twitch in sight?
If so, good for you.
As for the rest of us, we are nervously sipping on our tightly clenched glass of rosé, mentally inching our way past the “this is incredibly awkward” moment. (By the way, we’re also thinking how we can gracefully exit the room and get home in time to Netflix and chill.)
“Networking has definitely been a challenge for me as I’m not that extroverted. However, as an entrepreneur, its undeniable that networking pays huge dividends,” explains Khuram Zaman, CEO of digital agency, Fifth Tribe.
He is not alone. Those dividends are often overshadowed by networking fears. In today’s networked economy it’s hard to confess – openly, honestly and authentically – “I hate networking.”
The culprit? Much of the networking advice out there is free bad advice. For example:
Just wing it.
Just do a little small talk.
You’re fine! Just chug a few more glasses to loosen up.
You should just hand out as many business cards as possible.
It’s networking advice like this that keeps real authentic connections from happening. So naturally, it comes across overbaked and falls flat on delivery.
Practical networking advice that actually works
Building a successful business requires collaboration, and it’s the most productive with trusted relationships. Relationships are not rocket science, but finding common ground can feel like it. For people who hate to network we often fight our own battle—to measure up, to stand up, and to be heard.
Thankfully, there are tips and strategies we can explore to build those coveted business relationships everyone is always talking about. On days when you just can’t muster another “networking event” and suffer from the FOMO of it all, consider these tips.
Ease into online networking first
John Rampton, Founder and CEO of Due, admits that you have to figure out ways to network in your own way. “I have found that it’s a lot easier to network online if I’m not feeling networking in person.”
“It’s a lot easier to network online if I’m not feeling networking in person.” – John Rampton, Founder and CEO of Due @johnrampton
“While commenting on blog posts and helping others out isn’t as good as face-to-face networking, it’s still very valuable and something almost anyone (including introverts) can take advantage of at any time. It has helped me over the years establish countless relationships that I would have never been able to meet in person.”
Foster relationships before you need them
Many people are nervous networkers because they are navel-gazing instead of taking the long view. “In any industry, your network is your most valuable asset. People tend to care about their contacts only when they need them. Big mistake,” says Aliza Licht, former Donna Karan International, SVP of Communications.
“People tend to care about their contacts only when they need them. Big mistake.”EVP Brand Marketing & Communications at alice + olivia @AlizaLicht
Aliza — better known to many as the former “DKNY PR Girl”— understands the power of cultivating the right relationships. As the founder and President of Leave Your Mark, Licht explains: “The most successful people keep those relationships alive especially when there’s no reason to. Reaching out to say hello and ask someone how they are (with no hidden agenda) goes a long way in building the path to long-term professional friendship.”
She also recommends keeping a list of your contacts and when you’ve touched based with them to track your professional relationships. “Don’t forget that smart business requires you to give a little too. Being gracious with introductions and favors is also always a great way to generate good business karma.”
Practice your nonverbal ninja moves
An easy way to build rapport and connection with people you’ve just met is to play up your nonverbal cues by fronting, according to Vanessa Van Edwards, founder of Science of People–a human behavior research lab.
She explains, “Fronting is the way we angle our body towards another person. To show respect during your conversations, remember the 3 T’s: top, torso and toes,” says Van Edwards.
“Angle your entire body towards the person or group you’re speaking with, and you will encourage authentic and engaging conversation.”
She also suggests that we abandon social scripts. When you do, “you give yourself and your conversation partners the opportunity to get to know each other on a deeper, more meaningful level.”
Build ‘face-to-face’ social media dialogue
Attention spans are short these days. “The average attention span in 2013 was 9 seconds, one second less than the attention span of a goldfish,” according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
As you spend time wondering if they’ll reject you – the clock is ticking. Instead, practice your networking skills online using social media and online video. “We are born looking for faces and need to see people on the other side of our communication,” Wade Foxx, Creative Director and founder of urSOCIAL, a boutique PR Agency, explains.
Foxx advises that the importance of using social media channels to build trust with current and potential brand advocates shouldn’t be overlooked. As humans we still crave face-to-face interaction, even as everything moves online.
“To improve your network … and add value, start creating live video streams to answer your community’s questions. Do this on a weekly basis and a minimum of 1 time per week and you will find people will want to network with you and a trusted business relationship with you.” As you become more comfortable in front of a camera, a boost in confidence will naturally follow.
Leverage tech because it all goes down in the DM’s
“Let’s be honest: DMs on Instagram and Twitter are part of networking and my brand marketing strategy (it should be part of yours too),” Jessica Naziri exclaims. As a tech expert, writer and founder of TechSesh, Jessica affirms that technology is your friend if you want to keep networking fears at bay.
“It’s easier than ever to reach out to someone and get a response back, whether that’s for dating, business relationships or mentorship,” says Naziri. “New opportunities are available for those bold enough to grab them and send a message that is catchy enough.”
Compliment a complete stranger
Learning how to compliment someone is a powerful social skill and fundamental to networking with ease. Start with being genuine. Find something you admire about someone and let them know about it. “Complimentsare in fact one of the finest tools for acquiring more social skills, because the returns are great and immediate. They escalate the atmosphere of positivity […] fostering the flow of conversation…”
Think about how you feel when someone compliments you. A simple and genuine compliment can change the tone of your entire day. Meanwhile, this simple tip will help you become more comfortable striking up conversations.
Fresh perspective on networking
Ultimately, even if you cringe at the thought of attending a networking event, commit to changing your perspective. Taking a genuine interest in others along with these quick tips are small steps toward an even bigger opportunity.
You’ll soon realize that your fears of rejection, judgement and embarrassment—while very real—don’t have to be your business reality.
Take a deep breath, have fun and hopefully we’ll see you down in the DM’s or flashing a smile on Facebook Live.