Whether you are an introvert, an extrovert, or a mix of the two, starting a conversation with a complete stranger is uncomfortable. A small twinge of nerves when kicking off a new introduction is common. While some personalities power through these nerves, or barely notice them, others feel so debilitated they may avoid going to events all together.
Networking can be an important part of growing both professionally and personally. Just as you prepare for important meetings, you need to also prepare for the more casual networking events. Putting in some work ahead of time will help alleviate nerves. We've pulled together a few tips to help anyone get ready for networking opportunities.[Tweet "Just as you prepare for important meetings, you need to prepare for networking events. #GovEventsBlog"]
- There's no "right" way to network - As this article points out, there is no single way to network. If handing out your business cards makes you uncomfortable, find another way you can follow-up with people. Don't feel you have to talk all business, if you are more at ease talking sports, family, anything - lead with that.
- Plan ahead - Many conferences and events are beginning to publish attendee lists. Scan the list for familiar names and contact them in advance of the event to arrange a meet-up. Knowing at least one person can help ease you into networking. Plus, they may know other attendees and can introduce you.[Tweet "Tips to help anyone get ready for networking opportunities. #GovEventsBlog"]
- Focus on giving, not taking - If you are uncomfortable asking people for advice, introductions, or information, focus instead on what you can give them. Be the advice giver rather than the requester. By showing your knowledge you'll make an impression that will make people want to offer up what you were afraid to ask for.
- Listen - Every good social dynamic needs a mix of listening and talking. You can be the listener at networking events, following up afterward with information in a more comfortable setting or medium. Concentrating on listening also allows you to jump in and talk when you truly have something meaningful to say and share. Don't feel like you have to fill the silence, talk when it feels natural to do so.[Tweet "Don't feel like you have to fill the silence, talk when it feels natural to do so. #GovEventsBlog"]
- Embrace the awkwardness - This author detailed how riding small shuttles between events proved to be the best part of the event for him. His "forced" conversations were so valuable that he actually chose to ride the shuttle for half a day rather than sit through sessions. While that may not be a realistic option for most events, what we took away from this example is the knowledge that everyone is in the same boat (or shuttle as the case may be) of awkwardness and you can start with that commonality in getting a conversation going.
- Check social media - Follow the event on social media to see who is posting about attending. Make a note of some of the more popular topics that are being discussed and use these as conversation starters.
- Make it a Game - We've talked about gamification at events here before, but you can do it for yourself. Give yourself a goal of a number of people to talk to, amount of time spent networking, or amount of time "working the room" before you take your seat.
We'd love to hear from you. How do you overcome the shared awkwardness of networking to make meaningful connections? Share your thoughts in the comments.