It happens to me every time I sign up for a networking event. I register well in advance, excited about the great opportunity. Then the day of the event arrives, and I’m filled with dread and doubt, spending hours before I’m supposed to leave coming up with at least five to 10 reasons to not go.
In the past, I would allow myself to take the easy way out and skip these events, sidestepping my anxiety and giving in to my desire for a quiet night at home. But in the end, I was always filled with the same sense of regret. I’d scroll through follow-up emails from event organizers thanking everyone for attending and feel a familiar sense of disappointment in myself. Considering that 85% of jobs are filled via networking, I knew I had to come up with helpful ways to get out of my comfort zone and tackle networking head on. If you also experience the few-hours-before-freak-out, these tips could help you get into the networking game, too.
Before going to events, ask around and see who else might be interested in attending. Once you find a coworker, colleague, or friend willing to go, designate a time to meet up before the event. Having a commitment to a specific person makes it harder to back out at the last minute. Plus, if you’re like me, walking in alone to the event is half the battle, and having someone to make your entrance with may help lower your anxiety.
Set a ‘connections’ goal
While it’s good to arrive in a pair, make sure you branch out once you’re there. Sign in together and then go your separate ways. To help make sure you do this, set a goal of how many new people you’d like to meet. Make it reasonable – not so low that you only talk to one person all night, but not so high that you cut conversations short to move on to the next person.
Keep small talk simple
Breaking into conversations or approaching an individual can be as easy as walking up and saying, “May I join you?” Once you’ve done that, continue to keep it simple if you’re struggling to figure out what to say. You can ask about their company, role, schooling, or hometown. Stick to topics that are not too personal, but give you an opportunity to find common ground. To keep the conversation going, follow up on their answers. For example – “Your role sounds really interesting. What are some of your day-to-day responsibilities?”
Perfect your personal elevator pitch
You’re probably familiar with the concept of an elevator pitch for businesses, but it’s important to have one for yourself, especially if you have a position that’s hard to explain on the fly. Being able to succinctly summarize not only your past experience, but also your aspirations, could secure a valuable connection. For your elevator pitch to be successful, you need to practice saying it out loud at home before you go. It may feel odd, but it’ll help keep you from getting tongue-tied and losing your confidence at the event. Here are some helpful tips for perfecting your pitch.
Plan your follow up
As you wrap up conversations, be sure to swap business cards. This will allow you to follow up and reconnect after the event. As a bonus, if remembering names isn’t your forte, it will allow you to address others properly before you part ways. Good at names, but bad at details? Immediately after the event, take a few seconds to jot down quick notes on the back of their cards. Use those notes to craft a personalized follow up email or LinkedIn request within a day or two to keep the conversation going.
Once I found ways that helped me feel more prepared at networking events, my dread of them started to go away. I found that the more events I attended, the more confident I grew in approaching people I didn’t know, and the more skilled I became in articulating my own abilities. As you make networking a regular part of your professional life, it’ll begin to feel more natural for you, too. So, next time you want to bow out of an event before it even begins, take a deep breath, set aside some time to prepare, and take the first steps toward conquering your fears.