Even for the most experienced of us attending a new networking event, whether face-to-face or virtually can be a daunting proposition. As the regional lead for the no fuss networking brand of Business Buzz, I too find venturing somewhere new a challenge.
In an ideal world, networking should be friendly and enjoyable. It’s so great to meet new people, right? Well, that is true, unless you are battling with your own demons.
Having depression and anxiety can suck. People who suffer from anxiety may experience high levels of stress and getting out there to meet new people can seem an impossible task. The simple thought of it can make one feel sick. My own personal experience is of having been there and on occasion, can be there again. Being a successful Business Buzz Host lends to the perception that I don’t have my own battle with event anxiety, when in fact that is not true. Is not always easy, but perseverance and finding the right networking format have been crucial in helping me to feel less anxious about building my business.
It is so easy for anxiety and depression to get the upper hand, especially if you’re feeling down and sad. The thought of going out & being sociable seems anything but exciting and a huge mountain to climb.
So, how do you become more adept at dealing with one’s own anxiety in such circumstances? What can you do to make the journey to networking success less traumatic? How do you meet the need to network & to advance your burgeoning business?
Firstly, Let’s be honest – not all networking is created equal. Some events are highly pressured, where as others are more relaxed. It is important to find the right style that meets your business needs and helps you gain in confidence. The reason I am involved with Business Buzz is because it has a relaxed and informal format, that really works with my skill set and personality. The no fuss approach means there are no elevator pitches, which is the element of networking that so many people hate and worry about, me included. With Buzz, I have none of the worry that comes from pitching for 40 or 60 seconds or stumbling over my words, feeling like a fool and having everyone looking at me. Buzz allows me to focus on actually walking through the door (an achievement in itself sometimes) and having genuine conversations with like-minded people. Also, Business Buzz is super friendly, there is always a warm welcome & someone in the team to help navigate the room, the platform & the people. Buzz hosts are well connected in their local business communities and are always happy to help make introductions and get your conversations started. So, by the very nature of Buzz I feel less anxious because it is a safe space in which to network.
Secondly, it is good to have a networking buddy. Someone you trust, with whom you can explore the opportunity that networking offers. Together you act as each other’s comfort zone. Meet-up before hand and attend events together. By doing so, it takes away some of the pressure of walking through the door or arriving online alone. You’ll very quickly find that your own conversations will start without one another, but if things become too intense then you can retreat to the security of talking to each other for a while, before facing the melee again.
Taking this one-step further; have you thought about bringing a guest? At Business Buzz, we encourage our visitors to recommend our events & bring a guest who might benefit from the opportunity of relaxed networking. Acting as their guide, introducing them to people you met last time & helping them find their feet, will shift your focus & you’ll be empowered on their behalf. Doing something positive for someone else can help alleviate your own nerves!
Next, try to look your best! I know it is a cliché, but simple things like wearing a smart shirt or blouse, a bit of lippy and talking with a smile in your voice, will add 100% to your confidence. Even when online make the effort. If you dress to impress; you will. PJs are comfortable, but they are not workwear. Any networking you attend should form part of your working day and if you treat it as such, you will get more from it. Rather then having to find people to talk with, use a prop that draws them to you or have an ice-breaker. Using a small snippet of information that is easy to action, that costs you nothing, but will add value to your listener, is a great way to engage and to get you remembered.
Finally, have some open questions tucked up your sleeve that you can rely on when the conversation is a bit slow. “Tell me, what is it that you do?” or “How might what you do, be a benefit to my business?” or “Who are your ideal customers?”. Honing the skills of asking questions and active listening are important when networking. A brilliant tactic, is to paraphrase what someone else has said and you will be better positioned to introduce that person to someone new. When someone hovers nearby, take the lead to draw that person into your existing conversation by explaining what the other business owner does. It doesn’t have to be exact, because any gaps will be filled in by that person. Though active listen can draw the attention to other people, remember you are there to talk about what you do and who you are, this tact gives you breathing space and time to collect your thoughts.
Networking magic doesn’t just happen. Practice makes perfect. The more you do, the more confident you will become and the less your anxiety will dominate proceedings. Find an event that fits with your needs, attracts the kind of business people you want to connect with and become a regular attendee. It is important to be strategic, know your own limitations so that you don’t become network fatigued and build your networking stamina slowly and steadily.
James Brodie – regional lead for Business Buzz Northamptonshire