It’s the day of the networking mixer and you suddenly find yourself wishing for a snow storm, power outage, or some other random mild disaster to save you from having to participate in yet another night of anxiety-ridden small talk. I get it. There is something very unnatural about trying to force connections with strangers over cheese and crackers. Yet, given the importance of networking in today’s professional landscape there’s no avoiding it. Follow these five steps and you’ll be surprised at how unintimidated you are at your next event.
1. Lower Your Standards
The fastest way to make yourself anxious about networking is to set an unrealistic expectation for the outcome of any particular event. Chances are that a 60-minute mixer will not result in a new client or an amazing new job offer. By adjusting your expectations you’ll give yourself room to breathe and even enjoy the event for what it is, a chance to learn something new or meet someone new.
2. Set a Meaningful and Achievable Goal
So now that you’ve released yourself from the pressure of feeling like you have to walk away from the networking event having moved mountains, what should you be hoping for? An easy rule of thumb is to set a simple, yet meaningful goal. For example, you might set out with the aim of getting to know three new people by the end of the night.
3. Prepare, But Don’t Over-Prepare
Of course it’s a good idea to be mindful of the event sponsor and what the event attendees may all have in common. But don’t prepare for the mixer the way you would for an interview; doing so could cause you to narrow your focus to only talking about yourself instead of engaging the people around you in a more relaxed manner. It is a great idea to have a quick elevator pitch prepared. An elevator pitch is not a 30-second version of your resume or CV, rather, it’s a couple of sentences where you tell people what you do and how it benefits others. The best elevator pitches I’ve heard are the ones that offer just enough information to intrigue the listeners and leave them wanting to know more. Strive for a pitch that invites a follow-up question.
4. Use Easy Conversation Starters
What you wear could be your best conversation starter. Depending on the type of event I’m attending I might wear a pin from my alma mater or from my sorority or from another professional organization where I hold membership. These small symbols act as little magnets that draw people into conversations with me with little effort on my part.
5. Trade Your Expert Hat for a Student Hat
It was easiest for me to attend networking mixers as a college student because I didn’t burden myself with the pressure of having to prove how much I knew. Instead, I approached each event with the understanding that people assumed I knew very little and had a desire to share their wisdom with me. When I became an entrepreneur I traded my expert hat for my student hat and began approaching each event as a learner again. Turns out the more willing you are to ask people questions about what they do and what they know, the easier it will be for you to meet people.
What's your favorite way to ease the anxiety of networking? Comment and share your tips below.