The dreaded networking after-hours, business dinner, or corporate conference. These things are sometimes hard for everyone; but if you are shy, or have any social anxiety they can be incredibly difficult and hold you back in your career. It is important to know that most people do not like forced socialization; but, it can have a great deal of benefits. Keep that in mind when practicing the following:
- Start small: Take a day, a week, a month where all you do is practice smiling, making eye contact, and saying hello to everyone you come in contact with, (when appropriate: I would not expect you to say hello to everyone on a plane or subway car). And I mean practice with everyone, the people who get your coffee, the person behind the deli counter, the person walking past you on the street, or the person coming through the convenience store door.
- Look your best but be as comfortable as possible: Yes, I am talking about your attire. If you are looking good you are feeling good; however, keep in mind your comfort. You do not want to be focused on the shoes that hurt or an article of clothing that is too tight. Those things will just make you more uncomfortable than you already are.
- Ask questions: Forget about the weather or the latest sporting event ask questions about the person you are speaking with. Most people like to talk about themselves.
- Listen and ask follow-up questions: Listening is a key in a conversation. People tend to forget that. Asking follow-up questions really shows the person you are interested in what they have to say.
- Do not be the “one upper”: When people are telling you about themselves do your best to not show off. It is important to let people feel good about their accomplishments. If they are discussing their first 5k and you are a marathoner; talk to them about running, the process, or the experience. If they start asking you about your running tell them; but minimize it. You want to keep things on level ground.
- Do not be the downer: If someone is talking about their fabulous beach vacation it is best to not discuss how much you hate the heat and the sand. Stay away from anything negative and keep things light and easy when networking.
- Repeat: At each networking event start with a goal of meeting one or two new people and then increase the number at the next one.
Sarah E. Stewart, MSW, CPC,
Life Coach, Author, Trainer