Effective networking is an essential to furthering your career as well as being vital to the success of your business. From building up a strong client base to creating opportunities for new ventures and collaborative projects, good networking skills will help you to make your business grow and thrive in this competitive commercial environment.
However, a surprising number of professionals find it difficult to strike up conversation with people they don’t know, and many people admit that they would rather just get on with the job. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to overcome barriers to networking, so you can relax and reap the rewards of meeting new people in your industry.
Put yourself out there
We often find ourselves in situations involving networking as a result of work-related travel for conferences, trade fairs or business meetings. If you feel uncomfortable in this environment you may shy away from talking to people by remaining seated and reading or working to avoid eye contact; you may even want to try to escape the situation altogether.
However, if you always try to get out of networking events or fail to engage in discussions and socialising you’re likely to miss out on some great business opportunities. What’s more, by not getting involved in networking situations you prevent your name from being known in professional environments and risk excluding yourself from key debates in your industry.
Rather than giving in to networking nerves, take a tip from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy strategies in psychology and face your fears head on so you can enjoy the benefits of making yourself known in a professional context. The more you expose yourself to situations where you have to approach others and make conversation, the easier this process will become.
Fake it till you make it
This mantra applies in so many situations, both in a professional environment and on the social circuit. Even if you don’t feel like a strong, confident professional on the inside, dressing well and adopting a, warm and outgoing persona will go a long way in inspiring faith both in your interpersonal skills and in your professional competencies.
Always dress the part, wearing clothes that make you feel stylish but comfortable, and make sure to smile and speak clearly, however much you want to fade into the background. Even if you think you might have said the wrong thing, pick yourself up and carry on, remembering that other people are always concerned about the impression that they’re creating to notice your mistakes.
Finally, perhaps the most important tip: never underestimate the power of a firm handshake as this is the key to creating a great first impression.
Practice makes perfect
It’s important to understand that networking opportunities aren’t limited to conferences and corporate events. Many other occasions can provide you with valuable chances to talk to other professionals in a less formal setting.
You may find that you meet someone in your industry at a social gathering or a sports fixture – while talking about business when you’re off-duty might not be the greatest idea, don’t be afraid of swapping details so that you can connect with these people later online or on the phone in a more appropriate context.
Even if don’t encounter potential business connections in your day-to-day life, this doesn’t mean that you need to wait for your next conference or event to start flexing those networking muscles. You can still build your confidence by talking to people in everyday situations.
Whether it’s chatting to the guy next to you on the train, or exchanging a few words with someone you don’t know in the gym, there are always opportunities to become more comfortable talking to new people. This experience will translate into the business environment and you’ll soon find yourself feeling far more relaxed about networking.
Don’t keep your cards close to your chest
A business card is your most important asset when networking. All the hard work that you’ve put into making an impression will be wasted if new contacts don’t have a way of getting in touch with you later on. A well-designed business card, featuring your phone and e-mail contact details, as well as online networking information such as a LinkedIn profile or a Twitter name will help people remember your name and make it easy for them to contact you to discuss potential business ventures.
Some people like to set themselves targets such as not leaving an event before they have given away a certain number of business cards. This is a great idea, but do remember to collect other people’s cards too, as following up from meetings is a key part of the networking process and can be much less nerve-wracking than talking to potential contacts in an unfamiliar and crowded setting.
Whatever you do, don’t let anxiety ruin your chances of furthering your career or building your business. Practice building up your confidence in social situations as well as in the professional environment and you’ll soon learn to relax – you never know, you might even begin to enjoy the process of networking as well as the professional rewards that it can bring.