If you are new to networking, one of the most difficult things to do is introduce yourself to complete strangers. We grew up being told, "don't talk to strangers." Most of us aren’t going to physically fear strangers at a business networking event, we may feel very awkward approaching someone we've never met. Even though we’re all ostensibly there to meet new people, we can still have a concern that we are going to be rejected.
While practice will give you a certain comfort level, it’s hard to get that practice if you’re letting that concern hold you back. Here are several networking tips to help you approach people you don't know at networking events.
First, remember that meeting new people is the purpose of most networking events. This is not like talking to strangers at the grocery store. People should expect to meet new people when they attend and belong to business clubs and go to networking activities. Many of them may be shy and are hoping that someone else will make the initial approach. Not only is it appropriate for you to approach strangers, but it is probably appreciated by many of the people who are there.
With this in mind (that meeting new people is the purpose), you can create a scenario of success in your head. Do not imagine that people are going to reject you; that will make you anxious and nervous. Remind yourself that your introduction is expected and welcome.
Prepare in advance by calling the host or hostess to ask if they will introduce you to a few people when you arrive. They should be willing to get you started with someone who knows other people there and would be interested in introducing you to others.
Watch your own body language to make sure you are approachable. Don't cross your arms, and when talking to just one other person, stand at an angle to them. This creates a more open look to your conversation and encourages other people to approach you.
Look for other people who are standing by themselves. If you make eye contact, smile and walk over to introduce yourself. If they are there alone, you can also use the buddy system to meet more people.
The purpose of business networking events is for you to meet and make contact with people, many of whom you've never met. Still, it's natural to feel some insecurity or nervousness. Remember, they are there to do the same thing. To them, you are the stranger. They may feel just as nervous about meeting you. By taking the initiative, you've made them more comfortable and yourself more likable. Remember these networking tips and you'll feel more confident and will meet more people to grow your network.
Beth Bridges has attended over 2,000 networking events in the last 7 years as the Membership Director and Chief Networking Officer of a large west coast chamber of commerce.
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