I watch lots of people at networking events chase their own tail. The get in their own way because they flat don’t know what they are doing!
I often invite people to a networking event and hear a lot of “I don’t network because (fill in the blank)!” They’re fearful, they make excuses.
“Many small business owners think that networking is useless and avoid it at all costs. Even if some small business owners do not see networking as useless, they still avoid it for various other superficial reasons, such as lack of time or other issues. Under these reasons, the true reason remains hidden deep inside their conscience. But the real reason is the fear of networking. Face down the fear.” ~ www.MoreBusiness.com
Excuses often camouflage fear. There are excuses and there are reasons why. The reasons why are usually because of a lack of networking knowledge which causes the fear. Fear is most often based on misinformation about what networking is or can be.
A common barrier to effective networking is a fear of talking to strangers. Fear is the greatest inhibitor of networking success. Fear stops the activity of networking. It keeps you stuck. . . like your foot is nailed to the floor. Fear is what keeps us from maximizing our contacts with other people.
I know, you’ve heard this before. . . Fear is “False Evidence Appearing Real.” It’s true. We make up most of the stuff we fear. And most of it never happens. Fear is always worse than reality. It’s so natural to assume the worst case situation any time we do something unfamiliar, but reality bears the truth again and again that the worst case scenario is so unlikely that it’s not really worth worrying about. As Seth Godin puts it, “Worry is the act of experiencing failure repeatedly in your head before it ever happens.”
In networking you have to go for it and believe in yourself. If you can’t do that, then you should stay home, watch TV and eat raspberries!
If your are paralyzed by these questions:
• What will people think when I want to start a conversation?
• Will they think I’m successful?
• Do I look like someone they might like to network with?
• Will they think I’m pushy?
• What happens if I “freeze up?”
• If I hang out by myself, will they think I’m antisocial?
• Will they know that I am nervous?
• Will I just make a fool of myself?
• Will I be embarrassed?
• and the list goes on and on.
. . . then you really need to break out of your shell and know that if you want to break free, you must do the thing you fear. You MUST kick fear in the belly. If you are afraid, shy, and bashful around people at networking events, I have 3 words for you. . . “Get over it!”
One way to get over it fast is to take a friend with you when you attend a networking event and network as a team. I don’t recommend doing this everytime, but two or three times will help as you begin to learn the nuances of networking. Be yourself. Never try to be someone you think someone else thinks you should be. Relax. Just be yourself.
Another tip would be to connect with the group members before you walk into that room. If the group has a Website, go to it and see if you can find someone that you already know or whose business interests might compliment yours. Give them a call and see if they might be at the next meeting.
Another idea is to network face-to-face with people you already know. Invite them to lunch. Find out what makes them and their business tick. Discover ways you can help each other. You don’t always have to attend a networking group to network. You can network anywhere! Picnics, cocktail parties, fundraisers, school functions, golf outings, office parties, coffee shops, gyms, alumni associations, class reunions, and local business associations all present great networking opportunities. Wherever there are people, you can network. You have to give up being shy and actually talk about your business and seek information about their business before you can expect any results from networking.
Networking is NOT about being pushy. It’s also not about “faking it till you make it!” It’s about finding a common ground on which you can communicate. Always remember, networking is about building long-term business relationships. A recent Carnegie study showed that 85% of a person’s career success depends upon his or her ability to effectively relate to and interact with other people. And yet the thought of networking sends chills down people’s spines.
Building your networking skills will help you create business relationships, which can help to open doors and give you access to career opportunities. Networking is also about gaining access to skills and expertise that you do not possess. Networking is a learned skill. There is a right and a wrong way to network. Natural networkers are in the minority. They studied networking techniques and practiced them until they found the ones that worked for them.
Hardly anyone wants to be in a room full of strangers they don’t know and try to strike up a conversation. Coping with face-to-face contact with strangers is the first fear that many have to conquer. You can overcome this fear by being the first to speak to them. Try this: Replace fear with curiosity! Make small talk. Ask lots of questions (and be a good listener). Be interested. The person who is asking the questions is in control of the conversation. When you focus on finding something you have in common with the other person, the quicker the connection will occur.
“By being interested we lessen the fear concerns. By being interested we become less self conscious. By being interested we form relationships. Being interested means remaining interested and following up with people afterwards. You will be seen as a person of your word, but you will reinforce your interest in the other person.” ~ Kevin Eikenberry
Ask questions about their business, how they got involved, what sets them apart, and what they love about it. Ask about their perfect client or customer, their interests and their family. As you listen see what connections you can make for them to help them reach their goals.
It helps if you will prepare a unique way of introducing yourself that is different and catchy. Smile. Look people in the eyes. Eye contact is important because it shows that you care and also shows self-confidence. Always use your full name. Most of the time people will think you are professional by saying your full name and they may ask what you do as a result. Write a 4-line funny poem about who you are and what you do.
I will often say, “Hello, my name is Larry James, the guy with two first names.” I know. It’s kinda silly, but it gets their attention, makes them “think” about my name and helps them to remember it. Depending on the event, I may add: “I’ve married more than 440 women!” That ALWAYS gets their attention. I go on to explain that: “I am an award winning wedding officiant and perform the most “romantic” wedding ceremony you will ever find anywhere.” 😉
The first impression a person has of you will stay with them for a long time. When you let others know what you do, what your skills are, you spread the word about yourself. One of the best ways to make a good first impression is to find creative ways to introduce yourself to others.
One Kansas City Networking Group offered points toward winning your dues paid for a year if you created a new jingle (must be at least 3 lines) for your business and were willing to come to the meeting dressed in a costume and sing or perform it for the group. That should help you move past your fear and get people talking about you.
“At that moment when your mind goes blank and your mouth is dry, think about what they might want. Do they need a drink? Is there someone that you could introduce them to? If you are just thinking me, me, me then you will panic. Remember, everyone feels difficult in these scenarios but people will always like you if you are nice.” ~ Caroline Parry
NEVER try to sell your product or service to someone you’ve just met. That is a BIG networking “no-no!” Instead find out if there is anyway that you can help them. If everyone attending an event is there primarily to sell, can there be a worse environment to do so? After all, no one is in buying mode. Ask, “How can I help you?”
“Networking isn’t selling; there’s a strong perception that you go to networking events to sell as hard as you can and find clients. That’s not how it works. Occasionally you might meet someone who later becomes a customer, but the majority are there to sell themselves – so I can’t think of a worse place to try and sell because no one’s there to buy.” ~ Andy Lopata
Avoid asking, “What do you do?” Most uninitiated networkers only ask it as a conversation starter and most don’t care about the answer. All they want if a change to talk about themselves and give you their “30-second connection.” Most conversations at large networking events are like two TVs facing one another. Talking seems to be the primary focus of our communication. However, effective listening is more powerful. Place a generous listening attitude high on your list of things to remember.
Use the following phrases to listen generously and expand a conversation (Compliments of Kimberly Wiefling):
• That’s a great idea!
• Say more about that.
• Interesting! What else?
• What would that make possible?
• What would that allow for?
• Tell me more . . .
• What would make that possible?
• Help me understand . . .
Get out of your own way! Fight the fear and do it anyway! When you do, your self-confidence will increase and your business will prosper!
Copyright © 2010 – Larry James. Larry James is a Professional Speaker, Author and Coach. He presents networking seminars nationally and “Networking” coaching by telephone or one-on-one. His latest book is, Ten Commitments of Networking: Creative Ways to Maximize Your Personal Connections! Something NEW about Networking is posted on this Networking BLOG every 4th day! Visit Larry’s Networking Website at: “Networking HQ!”
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