Networking events are notoriously awkward affairs. Think about it…you go to a random location to meet strangers for the express purpose of engaging in small talk to advance your career. It’s a strange and somewhat frightening concept for many people.
But regardless of how you feel about it, networking not only helps you create and strengthen mutually beneficial relationships, it’s critical for professional growth and business development. As such, learning how to overcome the awkwardness is essential for every business owner.
In this blog post we’ll explore a few ways you can achieve this.
Ask the Event Organizers to Introduce You to Someone
An often-neglected resource at networking events are the event organizers themselves. Good ones will have an idea of the type of people and industries represented in the group and will have already made the rounds to introduce themselves.
So, one great way to break the awkwardness is to ask one of the event organizers to introduce you to someone. This will break the ice and give you a good launching point to begin a great discussion.
Connect with Someone Who’s Alone
You’re not the only one who finds networking events awkward and a little frightening. Some people give up halfway through and find a nice corner to hide. Seek these people out as they likely want to start up a conversation but are too nervous to do so. Throw them a lifeline and go introduce yourself. The privacy will allow you to chat without the constant interruptions.
Know Your Field
Even if you’ve never held a position in your desired field, this is no excuse for ignorance. While you should be educating yourself on your industry anyways, brushing up on your knowledge before an event is always a good idea.
Watch YouTube videos from masters in the field, read books, articles, and listen to podcasts. That way, if you happen to strike up a conversation with a recruiter or someone working in your field, you can hold your own.
Genuinely Listen When People Speak and then Ask Questions
This is a big one. One of the reasons networking events are so awkward is because 9 times out of 10, people are only feigning interest to get what they want. Yes, networking events are for the purpose of building relationships with people who can help you in your job quest or business venture, but they don’t have to be so artificial.
The next time you’re at a networking event and strike up a conversation with someone, genuinely listen to what they have to say. Listen to ask questions not to find an opening for your elevator pitch. Looking at your fellow networkers as people and not pitstops on the way to your dream job will remove a lot of the awkwardness.
Don’t Use Your Phone
The only time you should be on your phone at a networking event is to exchange contact information. More often than not though, phones become crutches–a way for socially awkward or shy people to appear less so. The reality is, mindlessly scrolling through your phone to appear “engaged” robs you of overcoming your shyness or awkwardness and of benefiting from the many advantages of networking events.
So, put your phone on silent and put it away. Don’t know what to do with your hands? Grab a drink or a plate of food instead.
Another reason networking events are awkward is because while everyone (barring a few exceptions) is there to find a new job or business opportunity, everyone’s pretending like they’re not there for that reason. Yes, let people know your experience and expertise, but be authentic. Don’t exaggerate and or hype up skills you don’t possess.
Stand Up Straight and Smile
Last but certainly not least, stand up straight and smile. This might seem silly but faking confidence actually makes you more confident. In fact, research shows that good posture and power poses reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, while increasing testosterone.
Smiling has the same affect with the added benefit of making it easier for people to approach you. This is because it’s easier to approach someone who looks happy, then someone who doesn’t look like they’re having a good time.
Here’s the thing, networking events don’t have to be awkward. The way you present yourself and the way you engage with other people plays a key role in this.
So, stand up straight, smile, be authentic, ask questions, enjoy the experience (and the free food) and watch the awkwardness melt away.
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