Networking has an image problem.
Catch any film or TV portrayal of it and you’re sure to see strong handshakes, the thrusting of business cards, conversations dripping in business-speak and an undeniable whiff of machismo.
And this is a shame, because for those of us who are introverted and shy, or uncomfortable in this type of situation, attending a networking event can seem insurmountable.
Networking is an important part of doing business, and there’s not much we can do about that. Whether it’s an industry meeting, trade event or a local meet-up of like-minded entrepreneurs, standing up and discussing what you do remains an effective way of creating business leads and putting you and your company on the radar.
The reality, however, is that modern networking is nothing like it used to be, and it can be effectively used by anyone. At its core, networking is simply people getting together, talking about what they do, seeing if their experience and expertise can help anyone and hopefully coming away with a new business opportunity.
The key to getting the best out of it if you’re introverted is to approach it in the way that best suits you. If you’re comfortable and relaxed, your business will benefit. Here are some helpful tips.
Ask questions. It takes the pressure off you – everyone’s eyes are focused on the person responding. It’ll give you time to think and show you’re engaged and interested.
Prepare what you’d like to say. Not everyone’s a past master at delivering an elevator pitch off-book. Practice at home first, bring a prompt card with bullet points if you need to. People care about what you have to say, not so much about a Bafta-winning production.
Bring a buddy. That familiar face offers a bit of encouragement and support in a room full of strangers. They’re also an instant cheerleader for you and your business.
Ask for introductions. If you’re nervous about breaking the ice, ask the organiser to get the ball rolling for you. They’re best placed to know who’s attending so can direct you to useful contacts as a starting point.
Speaking slots at networking events are a common way to get to know who’s attending, what they do, and how to find out more. But if public speaking isn’t your thing, request a mention by the organiser. They usually open and close the event with a bit of blurb – why not get them to give you a shout-out as a new attendee?
Look approachable. Think about your body language and posture. Feeling tense? Take a few deep breaths, some energised stretches and put the experience into perspective.
Follow up the event by dropping an email to the organiser and your new acquaintances, with a reminder of how to get in touch. Even if you hand out business cards (perhaps a bit passé these days but useful for some), they can get lost. You also can’t put a face to a business card so you’re less likely to remember who gave it to you or why.
We know it can be nerve-wracking but don’t go to an event and not get involved in some way, because you’re only wasting your time.
If being in a formal networking environment is too much, then maybe create your own event in a place where you feel comfortable. You could meet at a pub, or a café. You could be with two people or 20. You can talk exclusively about business or just get to know everyone and have a chat about last night’s football. Or whatever. The point is that you can create networking events that work for you and give you the best possible chance of generating business leads.
Tailor your networking event to your business. If you’re an illustrator, why organise a suit and tie event at a golf club? Instead, have a get-together at an art gallery or museum – it’s a space you know and you’ll be more relaxed and comfortable. Does networking always mean meet and greet? No! Back to our illustrator example, why not organise a fun doodle or make-and-take session? You’ll be showing off your skills and personality and you’ll be attracting the sort of people you genuinely connect with.
We live and work in a digital economy and online networking – via social media – is now arguably as effective as meeting face to face, you can interact with other businesses, build your brand and showcase what you do while never leaving your front room. Social media is not without problems, but it is an extraordinary platform for people who are more introverted and can be a powerful tool for you and your business. It allows you to build confidence in a safe space.
Networking is useful but it’s certainly not everything, and should never be something which causes you anxiety. Hopefully we’ve offered some useful tips and strategies to help make these events work for you.
Work.Life regularly holds member events and socials. It’s more about having fun and making natural connections than putting pressure on sealing that deal. Want to get the networking ball rolling and join a workspace where you can have daily interactions, check out our locations here.