The ability to connect with people is essential to the success of your business. Professional networking events can present you with opportunities to interact with others in business on a personal level, and this can develop profitable relationships. These occasions are critical for anyone who wants to grow a business or promote a career.
Many people are simply not comfortable walking into a room full of strangers and starting up a conversation, but there are some simple ways to get around that fear.
Stumbling Blocks to Successful Networking
Related: How to Network Like a Boss
Here are five common stumbling blocks to successful networking, and some ways to help you overcome them.
1. Reluctance to talk to strangers
We’re all taught at an early age not to talk to strangers because “It’s just not safe.” In certain situations, this is still good advice. In business, however, talking to strangers is the best way to generate interest and support for your products and services. If you only talk to the people that you already know, you’ll definitely miss out on opportunities to make new connections and establish valuable contacts.
To get past your fear of talking to strangers, set a goal for yourself before you attend any networking event. Decide how many new contacts you want to make, or how many “strangers” you want to meet. In some cases, you could even make a list of people that you’d like to meet.
Next, think of some icebreakers or conversation starters. Prepare questions that you can ask anyone you meet at the event. You might want to ask about other people’s business, their connection to the sponsoring organization or their opinion of the venue.
2. Lack of a formal introduction
It’s a whole lot easier to make a new contact when there’s someone else to handle the introduction and pave the way for you. If you wait for another person to make that move, you might not meet anyone. At networking events, the goal is to meet as many new people as possible.
This is the time to take the bull by the horns, walk up to people you don’t know, introduce yourself and start a conversation! You can easily do this if you’ve prepared your ‘self-introduction’ in advance.
You shouldn’t introduce yourself the same way to every person. Maybe it’s your first time attending an association meeting. In that case, you might want to say that as part of your introduction. Let people know who you are, why you are there and give them a reason to ask more about you.
3. Fear of being seen as ‘pushy’
Maybe you think you’ll turn people off if you’re assertive, and that if they want to talk to you, they’ll make the first move. If this is your line of thinking you’ll very likely find yourself spending a lot of time alone at the reception or meeting function and leave without a single new connection. Being open, friendly and interested does not turn people off.
You won’t come across as overly aggressive if you seek out the “approachable” people. These are the ones who are standing alone or who are speaking in groups of three or more. Two people talking to each other are not approachable because they may be having a private conversation and you could very well be interrupting.
4. Thinking that other people may not like you
There is always the risk that the other person is not interested in you and doesn’t want to meet or talk to you. It happens. If that is the case, don’t take it personally. Nothing ventured is nothing gained. When you get a cold shoulder, smile, move on and say to yourself, “Next?”
5. Having your intentions misunderstood
Approaching someone of the opposite sex to begin a conversation can seem more like flirting than networking. This is more of an issue for women than it is for men. Women have an equal place in the work environment and need to make professional connections just like men do. Women in business can no longer afford to hold back when there is an opportunity to meet new people.
Neither men nor women will have their motives misinterpreted if they present themselves professionally and if they keep the conversation focused on business issues or topics that are not personal or private.
Whatever your stumbling blocks, face them before the next networking event and devise a personal plan for getting past them. Once you do, you connect with confidence and courtesy on every occasion and the results will definitely be reflected in your bottom line.