Just 18 months ago I would never have been able to walk into a networking event by myself, knowing no one and talk to perfect strangers about what I do and who I am. Absolutely traumatising even thinking about it….at the time. Now, one of my businesses is a networking business!!!
Now I am not suggesting that this is something other people want to do but I am using it as an example of anyone can learn to network if they see its worth to themselves and their business. You have to want to grow your business (and I don’t know anyone that doesn’t) but you can learn.
So what was my first event like? Well the getting out of the house was the first step – I could have come up with 101 things to do rather than leave the house to go. Next was the actual getting out of the car at the other end. What if no one speaks to me? What if I have nothing to say? What if I make a mistake? What if. What if. What if. Finally plucking up the courage to go inside I made my entrance, didn’t fall over, no one moved away as I stepped into the room, nor did I get stared at. Everyone was really welcoming.
Uh oh – I have to actually talk to someone now! What am I doing here? What shall I say? What if. What if. What if. A good tip – walk tall, smile and say those really difficult words “hi my name is xxx, what’s yours” and let the conversation flow. Yes it is that easy! Small talk is probably the most difficult thing in the world but to help, instead of just standing talking about you ask the other person the questions, allow them to speak, listen and most importantly start building a relationship.
Don’t let your mind wander, even if you are bored with what you are hearing – remember they are probably as nervous as you so listen and find that little bit that you can hook onto and help them with bringing the conversation round again. Remember how you would like to be helped if you were struggling!
Don’t do what I did and glue yourself into the corner and leave after half an hour (yes that was really all I could cope with the first time). Nor should you stay with the same people – old hands have a habit of this and need to remember to mix, especially with the newbies – they were one once.
This is a business opportunity remember and you have to sell you before you sell your business. People will buy you, not your product or service. If you get chance to stand up and talk to everyone about your business for a minute or more, take it. Believe me there are very few experts at this and most networking events will have some form of this so prepare before. Know who you are, your company and what you do. If the first time that is all you can give them you will have achieved a huge amount. More will come with confidence and experience. There are very few who can walk in and do a full blown presentation with no preparation so don’t convince yourself they can!
Take business cards!!!!! I never get why people would go to an event and not take them. But, as well as giving yours out remember to take the card of the people you speak to and follow up the next day – no later or you will have forgotten what you talked about or lose the nerve. Just do it!
If you fall, make a mistake, go red, stutter your way through a conversation – WELL DONE! It means you’ve shown courage. It means you have taken a step forward. It means you have learnt something new. It means you will do better next time (oh yes there will be a next time or your business will stand still remember). It means you are on your way to becoming a networking professional and maybe next time you will have the courage to stay longer, speak to more people, do a short presentation and maybe, just maybe, you will see a new person and help them get through their first event.