humans connected together to form a tree“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I suppose if they told us that in high school, we’d have felt totally justified checking out of Algebra class to pass notes instead, but it is true! Of course, relying on others will only take you so far. You need to land a gig on your own and then perform well to keep your job or earn a promotion, but how do you get your foot in the door in a new industry or with a certain company? How do you find funding or the perfect marketing director for your new start-up? I got my start here at Catalyst Ranch when a current Ranch employee alerted me that the Ranch was hiring and suggested I would be a good fit. Doubly lucky for me, I also happened to know the HR Manager I sent my resume to from college! So, you see? It doesn’t hurt to know people!

That brings us to networking! Networking opportunities are everywhere, networking isn’t exclusively reserved for “networking” events, which sound nerve-wracking to some and just plain boring to others. You may find yourself networking at a birthday party or waiting in line at the coffee shop. (That’s why it is wise to always have breath mints and a supply of business cards with you at all times – you never know who you’ll meet!) If networking causes you a bit of anxiety, you aren’t alone! Here are a few tips to help you put your best foot forward and maybe even enjoy networking!

Find the right networking opportunity! There many types of networking events, so if you are a bit shy about breaking the ice, it might be better to attend an event with an educational component. When a portion of the time is spent listening to a lecture or participating in more structured activities, you have a chance to get comfortable before you start talking to strangers. Once you do start conversing, you’ll already have a shared topic to discuss with the other attendees. Feeling really shy? Consider volunteering at an event. If you are stationed where other guests will come to you, it is much easier to engage with other guests.

So, choose an event that suits your personality to get started, but you must get started! As an introverted homebody, I know how easy it is to talk yourself out of a networking opportunity. I won’t know anyone. I’m too tired. I don’t have anything to wear. It’s raining. Have a shot of espresso, grab your umbrella, call a cab, do whatever you have to do to get moving!

Rethink networking. Instead of viewing networking as a frightening or formal event, “view networking in the context of everyday interactions” as global recruiter Matthew Hill suggests. He makes another great point that makes networking less intimidating. “Networking is not to be confused with needing to be the life and soul of the party . . . networking isn’t always giving out 50 business cards at an event. It can be as simple as striking up a conversation with somebody who’s sitting next to you on the bus.” You might just want to practice starting conversations with strangers the next time you are on a bus!
For more tips on how to overcome your networking fears, check out this article.

 

 

networking

cartoon from youngsday.com

Put the focus on the other person. Judy Thomson, Vancouver-based co-author of Work the Pond: Use the Power of Positive Networking to Leap Forward in Work and Life. “People think it’s about selling yourself. It’s actually about building relationships and discovering what you can do for someone else.” People appreciate good listeners, so be friendly and ask a question or two to get the ball rolling. Rather than worrying about yourself – what you’re going to say, what you’re wearing, where to put the used napkin you are awkwardly holding – concern yourself with the other attendees.

Fake it ‘til you make it! Like most things, networking becomes easier with time and practice. Greet people with a firm handshake that says, “I am perfectly comfortable here” even if you are sweating in your suit. Find another person who is standing alone or looking nervous and strike up a conversation! Don’t forget to smile! Even a fake smile sends releases happy endorphins which will make you feel more relaxed. You’ll also appear younger and more confident. So smile and pretend like you are having fun; if you pretend hard enough, you may even start to enjoy networking!

Still stumped?  Here are thirty conversation starters from simple to humorous to businesslike. One or two is sure to suit your personality! So, put that a few ideas in your pocket before you head off with confidence to your next networking event!

Do you have a tip to share for networking success? We want to hear it! Please comment below!