Networking 101 for Shy People
“Networking is all about connecting with people. But then again, isn't that what life is about? The more time you can find to get out of the office and build true friendships, the farther your start up will go. Entrepreneurs need to remember to spend as much time working on their business as they do in their business” - Jay Samit
We are born with the ability to only make noises and sounds, rather than with the ability to speak. Speech is only formed as we grow up and learn. Let’s face it, how many people do you know, that still haven't moved past that ‘noise making’ stage?
You shouldn't need to raise your voice or speak in monologues to make it known that you're intelligent. If there is substance to what you're saying, then you will be heard. This same logic can be applied to when you're networking. Don't tell people what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. If you have a strong ethos and respectable presence, then people will want to listen to you.
There isn't really a written guidebook to networking, there is only experience, along with using your common sense. The general rule is to remain friendly, confident and professional.
Lets face it, you may not feel brave enough to just walk up to someone and start introducing yourself, and honestly I didn’t either the first time. Essentially, I just went with the flow and looked for people I had something in common with. For me that first conversation opener was anything from complimenting someone’s dress I genuinely liked, or asking someone their opinion on the food.
Side tip - food is a major conversation starter, you can’t go wrong.
Just remember, it is all about seeing an opportunity and taking it.
Once you have introduced yourself to a few people and gotten warmed up, start asking questions. Whether they are just general or business related, ask ask ask! Questions are the key to showing interest and engaging with someone new.
Let people know you’re really interested in what they have to say and show it. Body language is so important, keep eye contact consistent, keep smiling and never fiddle with your phone!
These have been important things I’ve learnt over the last few years during job interviews and attending business meetings. Believe me when I say, smiling is the ultimate life hack ! Your face may hurt by the end of the day, but it will be worth it. If you want people to remember you as receptive and approachable, then smiling is the way to do that. I have also learnt that laughing at people’s bad jokes will make them like you- as painful as it is, just do it.
Another important point to remember, is to not make your conversational style feel like an interrogation. Offer pieces of information about yourself and waver off serious topics by cracking a joke on the side, if you feel the moment is right. Keep the atmosphere light and fun because you’re not in a formal meeting, you’re just trying to get to know people. The serious stuff comes afterwards and by making good acquaintance with fellow clients beforehand, will make the business related meetings held in the future a lot more easy going. All you have to remember in the back of your mind is professionalism. Don't start telling people what you did on holiday last year in Ibiza, just find common ground. It’s a lot easier once a conversation starts flowing, than how you are probably imagining it in your head as a first timer.
You might find you get stuck with someone who, like I mentioned earlier on, ‘likes to make a lot of noise’. Not everyone you meet will be on the same wavelength as you and you will probably end up speaking to someone who you don't particularly want to talk to anymore. The best way to end a conversation is by coming up with a genuine excuse, for example, you need to use the bathroom, or you need to go and meet with someone else as you are very busy. Coming across as busy is a great thing- people who are in high demand reflect importance.
With any important business cards you collect, try and remember key points of your conversations, and note them down if you can. The reason I am saying this is because when you follow up on all potential clients, it’s better addressing an email to someone and making it personalised, rather than sending a generic, templated message that can go out to anyone. It shows you have value in your clients and true interest, whilst showing that you're a good listener. This is valued from all perspectives in life in general.
So remember- don't stress or overthink anything. Just think of networking as making friends. Remember you can be anyone who you want to be. Embrace an alter-ego with high confidence, and who is loud and proud - if you’re shy then no-one needs to know that.
And finally, view networking as an opportunity to be the best you that you can possibly be, and watch your P.R career go through the roof.