3 Ways to Overcome Your Networking Fears

Played any golf lately? It’s long been known that plenty of business gets done on the golf course. Relationships are built and multimillion dollar deals are made. It’s not sexy like the hottest new trend on Twitter or the connection of millions on Facebook, but it’s the meat and potatoes of how business has been getting done for decades.

Yes, business networking with people face-to-face can take you a long way. It may help you discover that hot new client, a rock star employee, or a connection for your next step up the career ladder.

But most people are terrified to do it.
They think of business networking as a bunch of slimy salespeople all pushing business cards in each others’ faces. But it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s business professionals like you and me who are working to establish relationships so we can all grow and prosper.

What scares most people so much about business networking? Mostly, it’s about talking to strangers and the fear that we’ll make a fool of ourselves. Trust me, that won’t happen.

In our regular day-to-day life, we talk to strangers all the time. Think about this. You probably chatted with the young lady who helped you with your favorite beverage at the local coffee house or the young man that rang up your order the last time you went to a restaurant. And what about the person behind the counter at the 24 hour convenience store? You talked to them didn’t you?

So it’s time to get over it and start putting your business networking skills to work. Here are three tips that will help you get started:

1. Use the Three Foot Rule

The three foot rule is an easy way to practice networking without the stress. Just strike up a conversation with anyone who is within three feet of you — wherever you happen to be. Talk to everyone. Start the discussion with a common thread like “Gee, the weather’s been flaky lately” or “It seems like there’s always a line at this place” or “Have you been here before? What’s your favorite [whatever]?” Focus on the other person. You’ll be amazed at how your discussions will turn out. Plus you’ll have some fun and lose some of the fear of talking to strangers.

2. Ban the Buddy System

At your very next meeting, position yourself at the table next to two people you don’t know well. Resist the urge to sit with your “buds” and stay in your comfort zone. Strike up a conversation with your new meeting mates by asking simple questions like, “How did you get involved with this project?” or “I see you’re from [their department], can you tell me a bit more about it?” Prepare your questions in advance (and practice!) so you’ll feel more comfortable when you’re talking with someone new. Apply this same strategy to the next conference you attend.

3. Follow Up to Extend the Relationship

It won’t do you any good to connect with a bunch of new people, within or outside of your company, if you never talk with them again. Reinforcing an initial meeting will help build a lasting relationship which is the ultimate reward of networking. Once you experience that reward, you’ll truly look forward to your networking opportunity! So, take a few moments after your initial meeting to connect on another level. Pop off an email thanking them for the great conversation, seek them out on Twitter or LinkedIn to continue building the relationship and turn it into a long term connection.

What do you think? Got any additional advice about business networking? Please share in the comments.

Denise O'Berry

Denise O’Berry — aka the Team Doc — has been working with teams and team leadership in the public, non profit and private sectors for over twenty years. Follow her @askteamdoc.

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