Your heart pounds. Your palms sweat. Your breathing gets shallow.
Have you ever felt like this before when introducing yourself to someone? At times, you might have been wondering “Why did I ever sign up for this networking event, anyway?”
You and your sweaty hands are not alone. In fact, social anxiety is as real as the anxiety of being in danger. Our brains don’t know the difference.
When I first started to network, it was really intimidating. Left to my own devices, I would have avoided going out and meeting new people. I had a ton of reasons why I shouldn’t even try. But some part of myself knew it would be good for me — and clearly it would be good for my business — so I made the decision to board the networking train and go full-steam ahead. It didn’t come easy, and I needed a bigger reason for networking than finding new clients. I realized I wanted to get better at social situations, and I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines.
I was determined to not let my anxiety run me, and I decided to make a game out of it. I planned to attend one networking event per week, and I gave myself a quota for how many people I needed to talk to at each event. I started small so it seemed possible, and I took little steps. In fact there’s a law called The Law of Little Things, which says that you can make big progress by taking little steps. In fact the most effective way to make lasting changes is to take small steps so your system can integrate new behaviors.
And you know what happened? My little steps worked. I met new people, found new clients, and, I actually started to enjoy the process. I didn’t realize it at first, but the more networking events I attended, the easier it became for me to approach people and engage in conversations. I was making strong connections with people I admired and respected. I even started looking forward to it.
All the excuses I used to give — and trust me, I had plenty — started to slip away. No longer did I think I wasn’t good at it, that people wouldn’t talk to me or that it was a poor use of my time.
Now in the last six years, I’ve spent more than 2,500 hours at networking events. I’ve met a number of fantastic people and made great connections for my business. And my husband and I started the Canright Networking Calendar, a list and email of Chicago networking events–and hear that many people love it!
So what can you do to help your networking aspirations? Here are five tips:
1. What’s your purpose? Why do you want to network? What are some of the bigger things you’ll get out of it, things that you can apply to other areas of your life other than your business? I wanted to make friends and learn about them, and what they cared about, along with finding new customers.
2. Use the principles of intention and vision. When do you want to start, and how do you want to see yourself as you’re learning to network? How do you want people to perceive you? What quality of people do you want to meet?
3. Give yourself a goal. This was a crucial step for me, but by giving myself a goal, I had a concrete number to reach, and I would be able to measure some success by just meeting the numbers. I may feel like I wasn’t good at it, at first, but I’d have success by meeting smaller goals.
4. Turn it into a game and have fun. Once you’re at the networking event, play a game and give yourself a number for connections you want to make. Then go out and see how many people you can connect with. Again, it’s not how many business cards you can collect. You want to have substantial conversations with people—even a short conversation can be substantial and meaningful. And the more you enjoy yourself, the more enjoyable you’ll be to talk to.
5. Follow up with everyone within 48 hours. This is an important step because you’re networking for a reason. I suggest emailing or connecting with someone on LinkedIn first. Let them know that you want to get to know them, over coffee or a lunch. And the more you know someone, the more you can tell if you can help them or if they can help you. Plus, you’re making new friends.