If you hate networking events, likelihood is it’s for one of the following 5 reasons. With each reason I’ve given my top tips for overcoming it, in the hope it might help you fall in love with just like I did…
If you’ve never been to a networking event before then it can be really difficult to know what you’re walking into. Fear of the unknown is completely normal, it’s a human response designed to keep us safe! But just like anything, the more we do it the easier it gets. If the unknown is holding you back my top tip would be to speak to the event host before you attend, ask them to talk you through what will happen so you can better prepare yourself. You can also research the venue to familiarise yourself with floor plans, parking options etc. to take away any additional stresses. And speak to other people who attend events – either ask the network host to introduce you to a couple of members so you can chat to them before the event and ask questions from the perspective of a delegates, or utilise your existing network and ask them for guidance to help prepare you before the event even begins.
No matter how old we are, how successful we are, how much money we earn, there’s something about networking events that turns us into scared little kids in the playground worried that no one wants to be our friend. It’s a very vulnerable thing to do – approaching a stranger and trying to spark up a new conversation. Again, fear of rejection is a completely normal response and a really common one when it comes to networking. My tip for tackling this is to allow others to come to you. Arrive early so you don’t have to walk into a room full of people already in conversations – they walk into your room. If you find yourself on your own, just wait. Stand still, head up, and just wait. Someone will come and talk to you I promise! It might feel like forever, but if you count in your head I bet you won’t reach 2 minutes. Giving people the chance to approach you takes the pressure away from being the initiator, but it’s also important to remember that you’re at a networking event – people want to talk to you! It’s not the same as approaching someone in the supermarket or a bar, they’re there by default to network.
It could be that you’ve been attending the wrong events! There’s so many formats available, it’s important to give them a try and see what best suits your personality. For example, introverts are likely to find big, open, unstructured events with lots of people just mingling really draining, whereas extroverts are likely to get a real buzz from that kind of event. It’s never that you’re not right for networking events, it’s the event that’s not the right fit for you. Top tip is that if you’re introverted look for events with more structure and opportunities for 1-2-1 conversations – or don’t be afraid to ask someone to come for a 1-2-1 chat away from the hustle and bustle of a busy room. Finding event formats you enjoy will mean you’re more relaxed and better able to showcase your true self – and that’s what people want, to get to know the real you.
We can often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to attend networking events in order to get sales, and yes networking can be a fantastic source of sales and business development opportunities, but when we fall short of expectations we can feel like a failure. There’s also the fear of saying something wrong or something stupid in front of others which makes us feel like personal failures. My biggest tip here is to release yourself from all the pressure and focus on networking for access to knowledge. Academic research has shown one of the most valuable assets we get from networking is access to knowledge so instead of going to events to sell-sell-sell, go to events to learn from all the amazing people you meet! No more pressure to sell yourself or stuff, you’ll find yourself asking better questions, being a better listener, and no more worrying about saying something ‘stupid’ because when you’re there to learn there’s no such thing as a stupid question.
You might have an image in your head of what a ‘networker’ looks like. How they act, dress, speak. I’m going to guess that you don’t fit that image so you could be trying to force yourself to be something or someone you’re not. Stop it. Stop it this minute. When we try to be something we’re not not only does that go against who we are and make us feel sad and bad about ourselves (imposter syndrome thrives in this space!), it also comes across to other people. We can sense when there’s something ‘off’ about someone and we might not be able to put our finger on exactly what it is, but it comes across as if they’re hiding something, or event worse – lying! One of the foundations of effective networking relationships is trust, so if you’re faking it people can tell. Be you, embrace it, celebrate it, and people will love you for it I promise! If that feels a bit scary, see point 2.
Do any of these resonate with you? Or do you have another reason to dread networking events? Get in touch, I’d love to hear your experiences, or if you’d like to chat about how I can help you overcome your networking barriers that’s what I’m here for!