Networking is an ESSENTIAL part of personal, freelance or small business marketing, but for many people it can be a real challenge. For some, even the word ‘networking’ evokes feelings of fear, self-doubt and has them wanting to run for the hills. But if you want to get ahead, you do need to get out there, overcome your fears and be confident in selling yourself, your products or services. Networking opportunities are always ripe for the picking, now is the perfect time to brush up on your skills, and give your confidence a boost.
1. Know how to introduce yourself. Have an idea about how you’re going to introduce yourself to people. Know how to talk about your products or services succinctly and confidently to avoid rambling. You might even like to practice networking role-play on friends or family if you find it helpful. Things can sometimes come out differently to how they sounded in your head, especially if you’re nervous. Remember to have a supply of business cards or small collateral materials easily to hand also.
2. Choose safe topics. Stick to safe topics with co-workers and customers, and leave incendiary topics alone. What’s safe to discuss? Anything that won’t provoke debate or hostility. It’s OK to chat about: sports, current events, your personal background, and work. If you talk about your co-workers or your boss, be sure that your comments are positive.
3. Use trustworthy body language. Avoid these suspicious body language and voice cues that let you know the person you are talking to might not be telling you the full or accurate story. By itself, any one of them could be a natural mannerism or even a sign of stress. But if you notice two or more of these signs at a time when you already suspect less than full honesty, your skepticism may be justified: changes in voice pitch; eye contact (person may begin to look away or to stare at you); change in speaking speed; increase in “ums” and “ahs”; body turning away from you; widening of the eyes; hand reaching to cover parts of the face, especially the mouth, even momentarily and an increase in foot or leg movement.
4. Pose Questions correctly. When you want an honest opinion, avoid asking questions that start with “You don’t” or end with “do you?”
Example: “You don’t think Greg deserves the award, do you?” That approach prejudices the other person’s answer. Remove your opinion or expectation of what the other person might or should be thinking. One better way: “How do you feel about Greg’s receiving this honor?”
5. Present a basic idea and then stop. Ask an open-ended question that is likely to start a conversation: “How does that sound to you?” or “What experiences have you had with that approach?”
When in doubt bring along a “networking pal” to act as a buffer as you gain confidence at each of the events you attend. Whatever your approach to networking, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and enjoy meeting interesting, inspiring and truly entrepreneurial people along the way.