(Image Source: Fairfield Mag)
I cringe whenever I need to attend pubic functions or professional conferences alone. I am not very comfortable talking to strangers, yet networking skills are essential in almost any professional setting whether on-line or off-line.
Knowing how to “network” can catapult your personal and professional success.
1. Overcome Fear by Preparing
Networking is an intentional and planned effort for me. I make conscious efforts to expand my professional circle through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Through on-line connections, I observe what professionals in my interests are talking about, and current discussions about industry topics and trends.
When I attend conferences, I prepare a set of icebreaker questions to ease conversation with strangers. I also set up a goal on the number of people I need to talk to as a forcing function to “socialize” with others. If I enjoy the people I talk to at events, I make sure that I follow up with them on-line after events.
2. Be You!
Preparation for a networking event is vital, but it’s essential to be yourself. Make sure that your social profiles are up-to-date and authentically reflect the “professional you.” At events, I have often realized that I am not the only introvert in a room. It’s OK to drink alone or walk alone to find people to talk to. And, it’s OK to “leave”, if I don’t find anyone interesting to talk to. I make an effort to balance “forcing” myself to network with knowing when not to “force” it.
For some, the ability to be social or connect with others comes naturally. For others, this is something that can be learned and honed over time. I see networking as a journey. If I didn’t “network” well at this event, that’s OK! I will find a way to make it better next time. It’s not a life-or-death situation.
Take time to find what works best for you and be yourself at the same time.