1. Pick the right networking events
Not all networking events are created equal, so researching the different types might be a good starting point. For example, you might feel more comfortable at events with clear divides between networking and listening to a speaker talk about a specific business issue. Alternatively, you might benefit more from an informal get together of business owners in a pub one night after work.
Be selective in the events you choose to attend and, at least initially, stick within your comfort zone to help you develop confidence in networking situations.
2. Research other attendees
Knowing who you’re likely to meet at an event can make it less daunting. Contact the organiser and see if they’ll give you access to the delegate list. This will allow you to do a little background research into who you’ll be sharing the room with.
Not all networks will be willing to share this information with you though, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t access this information beforehand – it’s helpful, but not essential for networking success.
3. Arrive early
If you can get there early, you’ll be able to get comfortable in the room before the event properly begins. You will also avoid the worry of walking into a room full of strangers.
You may also be able to have a more relaxed chat with the organisers and see if they’ll introduce you to a few people once the event gets going. Being early will give you the time to run through a few conversation starters in your head and settle yourself in the space before more confident networkers arrive.
4. Bring a friend
If you’re nervous going it alone, don’t. Bring someone with you who can help you reach out to new people. They might already have contacts that they can introduce you to, which will take some of the pressure out of that first conversation.
You’ll also be able to have your own conversations rather than quietly hovering while you wait for an invite into someone else’s discussion. Do try to chat to people by yourself though and check in with your networking buddy when you have a natural pause in conversation.
5. Watch your signals
If you’re nervous, your body language will reflect that and people might be cautious of approaching you. Try and loosen your body and stand confidently, even if you don’t feel it. You’ll look more open and engaged which will encourage other people to come up to you, saving you the stress of approaching them.
Keep your arms uncrossed and make eye contact with people you’d like to talk to. Holding a cup of coffee can be a great way to occupy your hands and keep your body language approachable.
6. Don’t be afraid to take a break
It can be really tiring making conversation and putting your best self forward. Don’t be afraid to step out for a few minutes to collect yourself and recharge. A change of scenery, a quick stretch of your legs or a browse of social media can be really helpful for gathering your thoughts.
7. Know when to bow out
Don’t let a conversation drag on longer than it needs to or let your nerves transform into rambles when you’re talking to people. Watch for other people’s body language – that will let you know when it’s time to wrap up. If they start looking around, fidgeting or moving into a closed body position, end what you’re saying, thank them for their time, and move on.
8. Have some handy conversation prompts
Scripting your introductions or conversation pieces will come across as unnatural, but having a few prompts to help you get started can be really useful. Questions like: “how did you hear about this event?” or “what did you think of the speaker?” can help you open up a discussion and still feel genuine.
You might also want to craft a 2 or 3 sentence introduction to who you are, what you do and why you’ve come along. It can help you be clear and brief when you first meet people, and help to stop those nervous rambles creeping out.
9. Remember everyone else is there to network
People come to networking events to talk, so they’re not going to judge you or shun you for trying to make conversation with them. Even if you’re not on their list of priority people to interact with, they’ll still respond and chat with you if you approach them. Other attendees are probably just as nervous about making that first conversational leap and will be thanking you inside their head for coming over.
Confronting any fears and practising speaking to people at events will make you a more seasoned networker. The more groups and talks you go along to, the easier you’ll find them. You’ll probably start to see similar faces at local events rather than a room full of strangers, and you can start developing longer, more useful relationships with them.