If the idea of business networking sounds about as pleasant to you as doing your taxes, you are not alone. Many of us dread the act of networking because it simply goes against our instincts. We are raised to think that we should not talk to strangers, and as we grow older, we come to expect a proper introduction by a third party when we meet someone for the first time. Business networking takes away this safety net; you must introduce yourself to strangers yourself, and do so with confidence. Confidence: this is truly key. Here are six tips on how to exude confidence while you are networking at business events.
1. Do a little bit of homework. Before you attend a business-networking event, see if you can find out a little bit about the other individuals who are attending. This can help to give you a comfortable ice breaker, such as the topic of a football team from an individual’s home town. You may even be able to find out something about the attendees’ personal interests. If you can’t find out anything specific, read up on current events. A popular current event serves as a good conversation starter. Just steer clear of anything that tends to be super controversial. Look for cheerful news or interesting and funny stories, such as coverage of the annual national ugly dog pageant.
2. Get to the event early. This gives you the opportunity to warm up slowly as people gradually arrive. It is a lot easier than thrusting yourself into the center of a large group of folks who are already talking and mingling. And, although it may be way out of your comfort zone, go alone. If you’re introverted, you may be tempted to bring a friend. But if you go alone, you are more likely to actually network rather than just relying on your buddy.
3. Approach people who have empty plates in their hands. Or, if there is a buffet, hang out close to it. Food is a natural pleasure delivery system, and it raises our endorphin levels. So people are likely to be more receptive to your conversation starter if they’ve just had a bite to eat.
4. Be the best dressed person in the room. Dressing well is an instant confidence booster, so make sure your outfit is well-tailored. The shoulder seam on your shirt should hit your actual shoulder, not the top of your arm. Your tie knot should be snug and clean, not sloppily yanked to one side. If you want to include an easy conversation starter in your outfit, wear a tie with an interesting pattern or a bright pocket square. Clothing items are good attention getters, and people are more likely to approach you if your outfit includes something eye-catching.
5. Politely approach people who are standing alone. It’s likely that loners have a little bit of anxiety about networking, like you, and could even be feeling a bit awkward standing alone. They are likely to be very grateful when you take the initiative to approach them.
6. Set a specific goal for yourself. If you set a concrete and measurable goal for yourself, you are much more likely to measure the event as a success once the networking event is over. For example, bring 6 business cards, and decide ahead of time how you want to introduce yourself to people. Once you have introduced yourself to six individuals and given them your business cards, you are finished. You can reward yourself for meeting your business networking goal.