Nervous about networking? Wanna know how to do it better?
Well, the first step is to stop being a Stepford marketer, shoving your business card in everyone’s faces, and reciting your elevator pitch at them like a drone.
Sorry to be harsh, lol, but sometimes it’s the only way to snap folks out of their zombie spell.
Business networking isn’t any different than making friends. And how do you make friends with anyone? You strike up a conversation, right?
If you’re shy and want improve your confidence, try practicing this way:
Go to a restaurant or grocery store. Your sole purpose is to strike up a conversation with a stranger. It doesn’t matter how you do it, just MAKE yourself do it.
Rinse, lather, repeat. Pay attention to the little mental tricks you find yourself using to initiate those friendly conversations.
After a week or two, keep practicing with this exercise, but now make it the conscious focus to learn one new thing about each stranger you talk with. Nothing too intrusive, obviously; the point is to engage them as opposed to just exchanging uninteresting pleasantries and talking about the weather, lol.
What you have done with this exercise is gain some confidence in talking to strangers and become more comfortable with it, figured out some little tips and tricks that work uniquely for you in starting conversations, and taught yourself how to draw people out by engaging them. They become interested in you (and find you more interesting) by your interest in them.
Now, instead of the grocery store or restaurant, go to the next local business event you can find and practice your conversation starting there. Make the first move. Say hello to someone. Ask for their thoughts, opinion or experience on a topic. Find out something about them and let the conversation lead you from there, keeping it natural, not forced.
When the conversation turns to business, rather than a business card, have a free give-away of something useful that you can gift to those who are interested, such as a guide on a common business problem or need and your how-to advice or solution for it (branded of course with your letterhead, contact info and a call to action).
A lot of things in business are counter-intuitive and go against conventional wisdom. You don’t want or need to always be on the business “make.” In fact, just losing the business agenda can actually improve your business agenda. See, counter-intuitive.
Lose the business cards and elevator speeches (in fact, you should be asking for cards rather than being focused on giving them out). If you get the impression that people are only being polite, it’s because that’s exactly what they are doing. They know you aren’t being a real person and instead are “pitching” at them. Stop that.
Don’t market. Don’t pitch. Don’t angle. Leave the business agenda at the door.
Loosen the collar. Let down your hair. Have fun. Be yourself. Make friends.