The ability to connect with people is essential to success in your professional career and business.
Professional networking events present opportunities to interact with others on a personal level and to develop strategic business relationships.
However, many people (including introverts like me) are simply not comfortable walking into a room full of strangers and striking up conversations.
Here are five common stumbling blocks that you may face when it comes to networking and tips to help you overcome them.
You may have been taught at an early age not to speak to people you don’t know. And somewhere in your subconscious mind, those thoughts are holding you hostage.
When comes to business and career success, however, talking to strangers is one of the best ways to generate interest in your professional background and to be connected to key influencers and decision makers.
If you keep talking to the people you already know, you are missing out on valuable opportunities to expand your network and be in the know for industry moves and trends.
To get past your discomfort in talking to strangers, set a goal for yourself before you attend any networking event.
Decide how many new contacts you want to make or how many professionals in your industry you want to meet. In some cases, you may specifically target individuals whom you’d like to know.
Next come up with some icebreakers or conversation starters. Have questions prepared that you can ask anyone you meet at the event.
It’s much easier to make new connections when there is someone else to handle the introduction and break the ice.
If you wait for another person to make the move you may not meet anyone!
At networking events, the goal is to meet as many people as possible, but more importantly be strategic and intentional about building new relationships.
You do not introduce yourself the same way on every occasion or event.
If you are attending an alumni event for the first time, you might want to say that as part of your introduction.
Let people know who you are, why you are there and give them a reason to ask more abut you.
You may think that your assertiveness is a turnoff to the average person and that if they want to talk to you, they will make the first move.
Simply not true! This kind of thinking will keep you isolated at conferences and events – and worse, you can end up leaving the function without a single new connection.
Being open, friendly and interested does not turn people off.
Whether you see a person standing alone or groups of three engaged in an active conversation, take a chance, introduce yourself and start a conversation.
Ok, realistically, there is always the risk that the other person is not interested in a conversation or something may be said that dries up the discussion immediately.
It happens, but don’t take it personally. Nothing ventured is nothing gained.
When you get a cold shoulder, smile, move on and say to yourself, “Next?”
Approaching someone of different gender, race or sexual orientation may take more effort and there is certainly more room for faux pas in the conversation.
Sometimes the dynamics and interactions between men and women can be misinterpreted if they lack professionalism and tact.
But, if you are not comfortable in the beginning, keep the conversation focused on careers and business issues and stay clear of anything that is personal or private.
Whatever your stumbling blocks are, face them directly before the next networking event; devise a personal plan for taking action and put those strategies to work.
It won’t be long before you find yourself confidently connecting with “strangers” confidence in any business or social scenario.