How to be a confident networker
We all know that networking is an important aspect of promoting ourselves professionally. Not only is it a good way to hear about new opportunities, but it also increases the chances of somebody referring you for a job that interests you. In fact, according to Elizabeth Garone in her BBC article “Take the scary out of networking,” a study from Millennial Branding shows that 71 percent of human resource professionals place a high priority on referral candidates when searching for new employees.
However, the truth is not all of us feel confident walking into a room full of strangers, let alone trying to make conversation with people we’ve only just met. Yet this is precisely what you need to do in order to build your professional network. Fortunately, if the thought of introducing yourself makes you break into a cold sweat, the following seven tips can help you become more confident so you can make the most of your next networking opportunity.
- Practice makes perfect. Before you attend your first networking event, it’s important to understand that networking is a skill you can hone over time. Don’t place too much pressure on yourself; instead, allow yourself to gradually grow accustomed to introducing yourself to others and striking up conversations. The more often you put yourself into a networking situation, the easier it becomes.
- Know your objectives. Illinois School of Health Careers advises knowing your objectives before approaching anybody. Do you want to meet other professionals in your field? Are you looking for a new job? Do you want to find out about promotions with your current company? By knowing what your objectives are, you’re in a better position to seek out relevant people and lead the conversation to the topic you’re interested in.
- Start with events where you’ll meet people you already know. Instead of plunging yourself into an unfamiliar situation, start by seeking out events where you’ll see familiar faces. For example, if you’re a member of a professional organization, attend a conference where you’re likely to meet current or former colleagues. Another good idea is to attend alumni networking events. In both of these situations, the fact that you already know people will help you feel more confident in your interactions and allow you to practice your conversational skills.
- Think small. Networking doesn’t always have to take place at large events. Sometimes simply having a coffee with a former colleague or meeting a professional peer for lunch can offer a less intimidating setting where you can feel more at ease. In addition, one-on-one meetings are often better suited for in-depth conversations, so you’re more likely to have the opportunity to explain what your professional goals are.
- Come prepared. There’s nothing worse for conversation than introducing yourself and subsequently drawing a blank on what to say next. That’s why it’s important to have some conversation starters up your sleeve. General ice breakers, for example about the weather or a local sports team, can be helpful to use in any setting, while more specific statements might be more appropriate at organized events. If you know ahead of time that you’ll be meeting certain people, do some research to find conversation starters. You can do this by reviewing their LinkedIn profiles for things you have in common, such as a shared interest or a work history at the same company.
- Show interest in others. Even if you’re really nervous, resist the temptation of speaking about yourself too much. People respond better when you show interest in them; moreover, by doing so, you’ll make yourself more memorable. So pay attention to what others have to say and respond to opportunities to keep the conversation going by asking questions and encouraging elaboration.
- Be aware of your body language. Even before you’ve said anything, most people will have gained an impression of you based on your body language. In the article “4 Body Language Cues You Need to Know When Networking,” Entrepreneur reminds us to maintain eye contact, pay attention to stance and arm movement, and monitor our facial expressions. Body language that indicates boredom or lack of interest is a surefire way to shut down any conversation, while body language that communicates an open and interested attitude can encourage people to engage you in conversation.
Networking can be awkward and uncomfortable at first. But if you spend some time practicing while keeping the tips above in mind, you can train yourself to become accustomed to introducing yourself to others in order to grow your network and advance your career.