Learning to Network

Network 2I suck at networking.

Going up to someone I don’t know, introducing myself, asking who they are, and starting a conversation is very difficult for me.
I dread it.
I go into a state of panic.
I shut down completely.

Note to self: Get over it!

While I have been keeping busy since my departure from IIBA in August of 2013 – public speaking, improv lessons, book writing – it is time to get focused on getting (or creating) a job. And while I hate to admit it, that requires networking.

So here goes…
First step, go online for hints on how to network. It seems, I am not alone in my fear of schmoozing. There is a lot of material to wade through! That’s good, though. I can select what I think will work best for me from all the advice I find.

Below is a list of the “helpful hints” based on my specific needs.

How to get “Psyched-up” for the Event

Make it part of your “job”. There are many things we have to do for our jobs we don’t enjoy but we do them anyway. This is just another item on that list.

Treat networking as a learning opportunity. You only get better if you practice, so practice. And don’t expect too much from yourself, especially in the beginning.

Convince yourself it will be FUN. There are so many interesting people you haven’t yet met and this networking event will give you an opportunity to meet more of them.

Know why you are at this event. Set goals for yourself and monitor your progress. Prepare your “elevator pitch” so when someone asks you the same questions you asked them, you will have an answer!

Do your research before going. Who is hosting the event? What kinds of people attend? Look at websites, blog posts, write-ups of past events.

Don’t be afraid of dud conversations. They will happen. Just don’t take it personally.

Where to go when you walk into a room of people you don’t know

Find a line and stand in it! You will have someone in front of you and someone behind with whom you already have something in common – you are stuck, waiting. I talk to people when I wait in the grocery store lineups. Just apply the same principles at a business event.

Find someone else who is by his/herself. They will be relieved to have someone else break the ice.

Go to the sponsor(s) table. If it is busy, you can listen in on the conversation. The ongoing discussion can provide a great segway to later discussions with others who were listening in. If there is no one else there, you can let the individual in the booth talk to you. Remember, they are happy you stopped by. You may even get them to provide information on others in attendance.

How to start a conversation with someone you don’t know

Real simple. “Hello, my name is [insert name here]. Who are you?

Slightly more complex. “Have you attended one of these events before?”

A real conversation starter. “What brought you to this event?”

Of course, there is always the weather, traffic, and currently, the Olympics. Local news highlights might also provide good ice-breakers. Make the questions open-ended and remember to listen. People like to feel important and if you are fully engaged in the conversation you will create a positive connection.

How to leave one conversation and move on to the next

Everyone else is there to network too so don’t feel bad about moving on. Thank the person(s) for chatting, exchange contact information (don’t forget your business cards), and let them know you will be in touch. Before you move on, make sure you ask them if they know others at the event that they could introduce you to. You now have something in common – each other – that can be used in starting your next conversation.

If you really don’t want to follow up, excuse yourself with a “time to get a drink”, I need to say hi to…”, or “I have to head out now”, but remember to always thank them.

What to do after the event is over?

Follow up promptly via email, instant messaging, or even a phone call. Thank them for their time. Identify next steps. But remember to be brief. You don’t want your message getting lost.

Sign up for the next event. You are getting better already!

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