So many things can go wrong while networking. An insane amount of things. An astronomical amount of things. An inordinate amount of things. So many things. Well, not really, but it seems that way sometimes. Whether you’re meeting a potential business partner over coffee for the first time, visiting a networking event with an unfamiliar group of people or just socializing at a company Christmas party, we all face networking anxiety at some point or another. Let’s face it, meeting new people and getting out of your comfort zone is enough to make anyone nervous, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. What’s important is how we react to that nervousness, how we push past it and make it work to our advantage, that makes all the difference. So here are BNI’s top 4 tips to help you push past your anxiety the next time your networking has you nervous.
We all get stressed out from time to time and sometimes we actually feel it- our heart starts beating faster and faster, our breathing quickens, our mind starts racing- this is the stress response. We’ve been told that it’s normal, but that it isn’t healthy, that it can increase the risk of everything from heart disease to obesity to depression. But it doesn’t have to. An enlightening Ted Talk details the results of a series of studies which examine the effects of thinking about the stress response on health and performance. When you view your stress response as helpful- the pounding heart “preparing you for action,” and the faster breathing “getting more oxygen to your brain,” you will be “less stressed out, less anxious, more confident,” and physically healthier.
Work On Your Networking Skills
Many of us don’t view networking as a skill that can be honed, but as some sort of innate quality that you’re born with or without- either you’re social and you can speak publicly with confidence or you can’t, that’s all that there is to it. The more enlightened of us, though, know that this isn’t the case. Like with any other skill, of course some people enjoy a natural predisposition that gives them a leg-up on the competition, but it’s nothing that can’t be overcome with practice and hard work. Practice your handshake, practice your personal elevator pitch, practice on your public speaking ability. Viewing networking as un-learnable is a misnomer. Your skills can and will improve if you just put in the time.
Know What You Bring To The Table
Know your own strength(s). If you come into a networking opportunity putting the people you’re interacting with on a pedestal, you will be less confident, come off as less valuable, and your networking will suffer. Know why you’re in that room with those people, what your value proposition is, and sell yourself on it. View the room as filled with peers rather than superiors and your entire experience (and your results) will change.
Force Yourself To Be Social
This is one of the oldest tricks in the book because it works. When you’re at an event and you come out of a networking interaction, you have two main choices, take a break or press on. I say press on. It takes even the best networkers a little bit of time to start feeling comfortable and social and to reach peak effectiveness. The same is true for you, but you can reach that point quicker if you don’t give yourself a choice but to be social. The next time you’re at an event, try this: for the first half hour, every time you leave an interaction with someone, immediately walk up and talk to the first person you see. The first few conversations may be a little rocky, but it will test and enhance your networking skills and all that talking will leave you feeling more socially lubricated than any glass of liquid courage ever could.
And there you have it. A series of small, manageable changes that you can start to make today that will have profound effects on your skills as a networking professional and the anxiety you feel as you network.