Networking is the lifeblood of every entrepreneur and, depending on each colourful personality out there, this can be quite daunting. Especially, when you belong to those kind of people who might not have problems socialising in general, but for whom it is a big leap out of their comfort zone to doing so for business only.
Being a confident and bubbly individual myself, I never found it hard to meet people and make friends wherever I used to be, but when it came to do so for a ‘purpose’ other than sharing and enjoying time together, it became a different story all together. Suddenly an open-minded, happy and bubbly individual turned into this moral and terribly-out-of-fashion principle-ridden nightmare!
I used to work in an industry where networking was everyday business, especially when you wanted to enjoy all possible benefits available and get ‘connected’ (despite you liking your ‘business partner’ or not).
‘I’d like to have that new record but I’m not going to call xyz to swap because I think he’s a self-important and bragging j***!’.
‘[email protected] distribution would probably put me on the guestlist but we’re not very close and I don’t want to ask for a favour’.
‘I might just call my friend [email protected] and go to the other concert instead’ (although I would’ve preferred going to the first one).
And so on.
Everybody was doing ‘it’, and whilst other people were busy having fun, I was busy being morale and full of spider-webbed-antics nobody really cared about, or at least not in that very context. Besides that, this was the unwritten law of the business and everybody was doing it – being sissy and special about it would surely not get me anywhere! And so on. And so on.
Nowadays I try not to think too much about all the good things I might’ve missed out on (I got enough grey hairs as is). Lessons are there to be learned, right?
In the present day, and swimming in the entrepreneur-pool myself, I have luckily started to retrain myself in order not to be eaten by sharks. The old ‘priest of principle’ still tries to make his way through here and there in the back of my mind, but I have finally learned that, as long as you’re being sincere and authentic and avoid the pretentious waters of fakeness, networking can the best thing that can happen to you. Given the right choice of event. It’s equally good for business and for staying healthy and living a good life. It is good to be connected in the real world, something that has become sadly scarce in times of Facebook and Twitter. Social Media can be a great tool and carries justification in its own way, but I believe that the ‘good-old-fashioned-way’ of networking, where you actually are SPEAKING PERSONALLY to somebody, is still the best way to network.
If I speak about networking events, I am not talking about the generic networking events everybody suggests to attend ‘if you’d like to be successful in business’. If you don’t fit, you won’t fit. No matter how hard you try. And believe me, I KNOW. I recall my very first networking-event in the local community (we’re talking regional here): pretty much everything I was afraid of came through that night. People were clicky and carelessly turned their backs on me. Being different surely doesn’t help the cause. To put the icing on the cake, I also learned upon arrival that a ‘self-presentation’ would be welcomed! Oh really? Of course I didn’t ‘HAVE’ to… but it would be ‘NICE’. We all know what that means: there is no way out of it and if you don’t do so it will be looked upon badly.
I have never been good at speaking in front of people. Instead of delivering a fabulous speech everybody will be in awe of for the rest of their lives, I’d rather think about my ‘funny shoes’ and/or my ‘fat legs’ (neither of it is true). On top of it I also suffer a serious condition of blushing and there is absolutely nothing you could do about it – unless: you’re drunk, you’re suffering dementia or you’ve been around those people all your life. Which, in most cases, you haven’t. And, as I neither suffer from dementia (knock on wood) and rarely drink, I had to endure it in a torturing and sober state. That was my first networking event ever! Good luck!
I have learned after the initial starting up period of painful conversations and awkward moments that networking for business doesn’t mean you have to go about it the way ‘everybody else does’, or numerous coaches and mentors are telling you. It might be a wow-event for some, but a total failure for others, all depending on your brand culture and personality (Marketing-Twang Hello).
And if you haven’t found the place ‘your’ people and clients might hang out at, a trick on weathering the storm of embarrassment is to be prepared.
A few tips to own a room full of strangers looking at you, …and YOU alone:
1. Be Confident and Personable
Even if you might not feel that way, straighten your shoulders and look people in the eye when speaking to them. You’ve made it so far, you’ll survive the rest, so what’s the worst that could happen?
2. A Little Narcissim Can Go a Long Way
Avoid having insecurities spoil the beauty of your mind! Everybody is unique and we all have something to offer. Didn’t Sesame Street teach you that NO question is too stupid to ask? The person opposite you most likely has been in your shoes not long before you, even if some are representing the walking perfection! Get hold of that negative troll in your head and be the champion we all are in one way or another.
Oh, and one more thing: do not apologise on every given and unnecessary, something we all tend to do when insecure. Unless you poured your drink over somebody’s shirt, don’t…!
3. Don’t be an Egomaniac
Listen first and talk later, preferably asking sincere questions in the process. Don’t be one of those people, who cover their insecurities by constantly talking about themselves. There’s already too many people doing this for a variety of reason – it’s boring, it’s tiring, it’s old. Be patient and wait for your moment to shine – a bit more modesty is always better than bragging like a tool.
4. Avoid the 4 No-No’s in Conversations
No matter if you ‘hit if off’ straight away with somebody, there is a few things you should not bring up until you know each other better: Religion, Politics, Sex and Personal Problems! I know, some of these might break the ice in other instances, but there is always a time and a place for each of them. Overloading somebody you have just met (unless you’re sitting on a roof and watching the stars) could be very harmful to the course of the relationship. Keep it in the closet until you know where the person opposite stands – irrespective from their background. I haven’t perfected this one yet but I’m working on it!
5. Use the Power of Your Voice
A lot of people underestimate the power of their organs. Somebody speaking clearly, firm and deep will always be listened to rather than somebody staggering, squeaking and breaking up, let’s talk Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave or Eddie Vedder. So: breath up, swallow your insecurities and make yourself heard.
6. Fine Feathers Make Fine Birds
‘Get stylin’, if you’d like to leave an impression – there is no rule that is has to be ‘a suit and a tie’–type of thing. You can dress neat and tasteful in many ways, whether it be arty, nerdy or rockabilly! At the end of the day you have to be YOU to feel comfortable in any environment and represent confidently – so be a winner by staying true to yourself!