Does the thought of networking in a large room on your own make you feel a wave of fear? Do you break out in sweats at the thought of walking into a room of strangers on your own and having to find someone to talk to? Does the thought of thinking of things to say to people you don’t know give you heart palpitations? You are not alone, my friend.  You might even be someone who never has trouble talking to people you know, you may even be the life of the party with your own friends, but walking into a group of people you don’t know is a very different feeling.

Gone are the days (for most people!) when successful networking is defined as the number of business cards you can walk away from an event with. Usually this is from people whom you can’t remember, never contact again, and likely did not make a genuine mutual connection with. Successful networkers understand the value of quality connections, over quantity, AND this is great news for you if you are someone who sweats at the thought of walking a room of strangers and not knowing where to start (maybe you even automatically pull your phone out when you get uncomfortable as your security blanket – click here for my previous blog post about out habit of doing this!).

Networking provides a great opportunity to meet people and learn from them. It also provides a great opportunity to stretch yourself in terms of conversations and connections.

Here is a quick support list of things you can do to stress less at the thought of networking face to face, and start nailing these types of events instead of dreading them:

Pick one person at a time – it is far less daunting walking up to one person and introducing yourself, than it is walking up to an entire group of people who already look like they are fully engaged in a conversation. I guarantee you there will be someone else feeling like you in the room. Find them and connect. You will also find that the conversations you have with people are far more genuine and meaningful this way, and you may actually keep the contact going after.

Ask lots of questions – It is often easier to ask the other party lots of questions about themselves, than it sometimes is to talk about yourself. Build the connection by asking lots of questions of the other person first and take genuine interest in what they do. Still worried about how to kick off a conversation?

Here are some easy questions to get the conversation started:

“Hi. I am Jane, I don’t think we have met before. What was your name?”

“Have you been to one of these events before?”

“What are you most hoping to get out of the session?” (if you are attending a conference, speaker day etc).

“What do you do?”

“That sounds really interesting. What do you enjoy most about it?”.

Don’t be all business and no fun! – Just because it might be a “business” event, doesn’t mean you can’t talk about things other than strictly business. Get to know people. Ask them what they do outside of work. Do they travel. Do they like football. What are their hobbies. Once you find you have a common ground, or a mutual interest, the conversation becomes so much more natural.

Give without expecting in return – A lot of people go to networking functions thinking there is only value talking to people with whom they can see immediate benefit from talking to. Not true. Just because you might only be able to offer the other party something of value now (a connection with someone, some advice, a helpful resource etc), doesn’t mean that that person may not be able to help you at another point down the track. Be open minded with who you talk to, and don’t disengage as soon as you realise that that person may not be able to get you a sale, or a contact etc. Bad networking karma for you!

Take small steps – If you are someone who gets worried about how to work a room, then set yourself small goals and once you have achieved it, bow out gracefully. For example, give yourself a goal of talking to three people with meaningful conversations and making a connection. Once you have done that, exit the event, and pat yourself on the back. Next time you attend a function, stretch yourself to four people and build up from there. You will be a pro in no time!

Follow up on connections within 2 days – often people go to network functions, make these great connections, and then never follow through! Ensure you leave a quality conversation with an action to touch base again – that might be connecting on LinkedIn (make sure you have a killer profile if you are going to do this – learn how, here!), follow up on email, or a phone call. Make the commitment to do it, and then make sure you do!

Finally, go in with a positive attitude and a smile (yep, this sounds obvious, right?!) – both of these go a long way! You will not be the only person there who is nervous, or praying that they aren’t that person standing in the corner hoping someone will come and talk to them. If you do find you are alone for minute or two – don’t panic, and DON’T pull out your phone – relax, smile, and look for the next person to talk to.

Networking is like riding a bike, the more you do it, the more you enjoy it, the better you get at it, and the more you get out of it!