Whether you’ve moved to a new city, are looking for a job, want to start dating or simply make friends, networking will prove to be valuable. The challenge is networking in a way that goes beyond introductions and an exchange of business cards that get lost at the bottom of your desk. Especially if you lack confidence, leaving your house to go meet complete strangers can be incredibly challenging. Still, even if you’re socially awkward and an introvert, you can exude confidence and ace your networking goals.
I know this because I have learned to become extrovert for the sake of business networking. Naturally, at any given moment I’d prefer to be in bed, reading, or binge watching Netflix original series, but in order to not be a total shut-in in a city where I’ve lived for less than a year, I actually have to get out and talk to people.
This requires a heap load of motivation, focusing on my objective and reminding myself the entire Lyft ride there that I need to build relationships. Over the years, I’ve gotten better, and although it’s a mental exercise to get myself to an event, once I arrive, I ace it.
Here’s 5 ways you can exude confidence at any networking event you go to:
1. Map out your networking event plan
Anxiety has a way of making you a no-show although you RSVP’d on Eventbrite two weeks ago. Before registering for events, think through why you need to be there, what you want to get out of the event, who you want to meet and how you can turn it into an opportunity to advance a personal goal.
It helps to look up organizers, speakers, sponsors and attendees if that information is available. Meetup.com shares all of that information publicly so you can start there for finding events that work for you. Plan to leave well in advance so that you don’t add additional stress by running late, having to look for parking or worrying about getting lost.
2. Present your best self
Good personal grooming makes you feel good about yourself. Even if you’re not red carpet ready, clean clothes, styled hair, and a fresh face can make you feel appealing. It also has the added benefit of shifting how people perceive you. Well in advance, work on skin care to reduce blemishes that may make you self-conscious when speaking to people.
Choose an outfit you feel comfortable in and iron your clothes so you appear polished and don’t have to fuss with things that are ill-fitting or that make you stand out. Care for your hygiene so that you don’t repel people with bad breath or body odor. It seems obvious, but taking extra effort in this regard can help you feel a lot better about stepping out into the public and meeting people.
“If you’re presenting yourself with confidence, you can pull off pretty much anything.” – Katy Perry
3. Make introductions early on
When you first enter into the room, chances are, people look up and notice. Instead of heading straight to the refreshment table, let the energy you feel when you enter the room propel you through a round of introductions. You can start with a general wave, , scan the room, make eye contact, then walk up to a person or group and say, “Hi, my name is.” The worst part is then over and with the courage you’ve gained from meeting the first few people, move on to the next few people and begin conversations.
4. Don’t overthink the conversation
Following the introduction, don’t go into a prepared speech, simply allow the conversation to flow by sharing why you’re there, asking the other person if this is their first time attending, and even pointing out cool things you learned about the organizers or speakers when researching the event. It’s also recommended to share a story, since these are memorable and impact one’s influence. Another strategy is to listen well.
In How To Win Friends And Influence People, Dale Carnegie shares a story of how active listening led to a person believing Carnegie was an expert conversationalist. The conversation usually is what people consider the hard part, but people don’t expect perfection and if you find some act weird, take comfort in knowing that you may not see them ever again. Basically, take it easy.
“Don’t think, just do.” – Horace
5. Practice mindfulness to relax
If you’re nervous, you will tend to tense up making you look uncomfortable and feel stressed out. Sometimes while holding a conversation, the other person will be long winded and so looking interested can prove challenging. In each of these instances, a helpful tactic is to practice mindfulness. You can begin to focus on your breathing, inhaling and exhaling slowly, so you can relax.
You can focus on their eyes and count how many times they say a particular word to distract from any negative feelings and remain engaged. Keep your feet firmly planted on the floor and allow yourself to be present, fully noticing all your senses. Mindfulness is a practice so do it regularly in order to employ it in high-anxiety moments like networking.
Networking doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, it can be an opportunity to stretch yourself and practice coming out of your shell. By practicing these tips, you can present yourself confidently and make acquaintance with cool new people.