Networking For The Socially Awkward

Posted October 13, 2011, by Andrea Riddell

For the average wallflower, networking and building up contacts can be a daunting experience often resulting in sweaty palms, nervous twitches and even a confidence-crushing stutter. If the idea of small talk and idle chitchat renders you speechless, do not be alarmed. Networking doesn’t mean you have to be the centre of attention or the life of the party.

There is no need to picture the audience naked or down a few wine spritzers before you embark. Here are some tips to have you fooling everyone into thinking you’re a natural born networker.

1. Give yourself a pep talk

Before you walk into a networking opportunity, you need to believe that you have something to bring to the table. Convince yourself that you have something to offer that no one else does. Because you do. Networking is about creating doorways for potential business opportunities and partnerships and a part of this is realising that you do have something valuable to offer people.

2. Be prepared

You never know when the opportunity to network will arise. Ready yourself by summarising your business in a few short sentences and memorising them. Then whenever someone asks you what you do, you’ll be able to answer without confusing or boring the receiver, and potentially yourself. Be physically prepared as well. Keep a small supply of business cards on your person, as well a clear contact list on your phone. At the very least carry a pen wherever you go.

Know, also, what you want out to get of networking. Are you looking for someone to fill a position in your business? Do you want to find clients or others in the same industry? Or are you looking for new employment opportunities? Knowing what you want will help you to be direct and focus your energy appropriately

3. Practise with your family and friends

Perhaps your great uncle’s cousin’s godfather’s best friend is an ideal connection for your business. Or your friend’s mother’s cousin twice removed. Ask your friends and family to introduce you to someone who may be a worthwhile contact. You will already have some common ground to stand on which will make it easier to build a work relationship.

4. Find a wingman

Having someone beside you may be enough to give you the confidence to do your thing. You can either invite along an extroverted friend to help break the ice when approaching strangers or find another shrinking violet to share your sorrows. Either way you need someone who complements you, not someone who will outshine you or even worse, help you blend into the décor.

Your wingman can act as a buffer, making the conversation more fluid and dynamic, or even act as a launch pad giving you somewhere safe to depart from on your quest for connections.

5. Ask the questions

If you tend to stumble over your words and hate long-winded soliloquies, then asking questions is a great way to keep the conversation flowing. This will mean you don’t have to say much yet you are still an active part of the conversation. It will also make people think that you are actually genuinely interested in them (which you are, of course). This will also be handy in finding out how the contact may be useful to your business.

6. Find like-minded people

If you love golf, go to a golfing convention. If your passion is fashion, then go where other like-minded people will be. Just because your business involves the manufacturing and wholesale of socks doesn’t mean you are solely restricted to sock networking events.

Sharing common interests will make it easier to connect with someone and find out whether you will be able to help each other on a professional level. And if not, then you might end up gaining some new additions to your friendship circle.

7. Get online

Social networking can be a great way to mingle and network without the added pressure of having to talk to someone face-to-face. Join relevant Facebook groups or start a Twitter account and join in the conversation. Being able to think about your posts and responses could give you the confidence to get involved. And with no boundaries or limits to your dialogue, social networking lets you tap into a pool of international talents and resources.

8. Be comfortable

If your tweed suit keeps itching and your new shoes are rubbing, you won’t feel motivated to get out and mingle. Being comfortable is key to your confidence and you don’t need another problem to worry about or distract you.

That said, resorting to your beloved worn-out suit probably won’t help you either. If you look like a million dollars, then you will feel like a million dollars. And chances are if you feel like a million dollars you will exude the confidence you need.

9. Don’t forget to follow up

After swapping names and compliments, don’t forget to swap business cards and seal the networking deal. Once you hold their contact details in your hand, make sure you follow through the next day and cement your networking relationship.

A simple email will suffice, saying that you enjoyed meeting them and look forward to future conversations and work opportunities. And don’t be afraid to get in touch with them later, if an opportunity does arise. After all, you don’t want your hard work to go to waste.

Andrea Riddell

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