This is the third and final post in our series of mentoring content shared by a panel of Momentum graduates at a recent Birmingham Southern College event.
No matter what level of business you represent, sometimes the mere mention of networking can be anxiety-inducing. Instead of anticipating great opportunities to start a conversation with a new connection, learn a valuable skill, or learn someone’s story, you may feel apprehensive about meeting people you don’t know. You might be thinking…
“Who do I talk to?”
“What do I say?”
“How do I stay true to myself?”
When you use a more intentional approach, you get to make the decisions. You can be purposeful about your strategy so that you can achieve the specific outcome that is important to you. By being intentional, you can eliminate anxiety associated with networking.
Below, our Birmingham Southern College panelists share their responses to the students’ questions about how-to:
- Improve your conversational skills
- Identify the right people to talk to
- Navigate introverted and extroverted personalities
How do you approach people?
The most important factor in approaching a person in networking is confidence. It’s particularly important not to talk yourself out of approaching someone due to a lack of confidence. More than likely, if you’re at a networking event, people are there to do the same! In most cases, people are open to meeting others and, at a minimum, having small introductory conversations. As you consider approaching someone, have a few ideas in mind for conversation topics. And don’t forget to smile!
It could be a very simple conversation starter such as; “isn’t this food delicious” or “wow this is a really nice venue” or “ I love those shoes you are wearing, they look so cute and comfortable.” It could be an introduction: “Hi, I’m …, how are you?” or you can even fib a little and go with the common “What’s your name, you look familiar”. Also remember, at any time, if a conversation is not flowing well, or the person is not receptive to chatting, feel free to say “nice to meet you and goodbye,” then move on to the next person. Whatever approach you take, just remember you’re just as valuable as anyone else in the room.
How can you introduce yourself in a non-awkward way/confident way?
My preference is to begin with a common interest or a compliment. These two methods are my go-to for introductions in social and professional settings. People often love to talk about themselves and their interests; therefore, these methods typically open the door for a genuine introduction and confident first impression.
How do you exhibit courage when you feel social anxiety?
- Breathe! Understand that nerves are natural. There’s no super button to push and say, “adrenalin, stop!”
- Take a moment to lower your head, close your eyes, and imagine the room.
- I say a simple prayer: Lord help. Speak through me.
- I imagine myself on top of the world! I remember the WHY! And I open my eyes, ready to confidently invite others on my journey.
I’m an introvert, what are some best practices in approaching people? What if you don’t know their name or anything about them?
Just because you’re an introvert doesn’t mean you aren’t social. In fact, introverts make great networkers because they listen so well! The challenge for most introverts is in starting the conversation. Envision a really great conversation already happening and simply get it started with something like, “hello, my name is…and you are? What brings you here today?”
I have “big” energy! How do I dial it back to make a good first impression?
First and foremost, never feel as though you must come across as “meek”, “soft spoken”, or “not ambitious”. “Big” energy can help sell you and the goals you are hoping to achieve. It may be deemed socially inappropriate for a woman to be exuberant, but with a little emotional awareness it can be exceedingly beneficial. What you will want to avoid is overstepping or being overbearing in a conversation. Here are some resources on how to better navigate conversations so you avoid overstepping or appearing overbearing:
Good conversation starters:
You can’t go wrong with a compliment – as long as it’s honest! Be aware that not all compliments have to be about physical appearance. Women tend to focus so much on that. It might be something like, “I follow you on LinkedIn and really enjoy your posts.” If it’s a natural time for a good conversation-starting question, I love asking people “if you could do anything, you’re guaranteed to make a million dollars and you could not fail, what would you do?” There is so much to learn about people from the answers!
How do you end a conversation?
- Hey, thanks so much for talking with me today. I’m going to [grab food, head out, say hello to a friend, mingle, etc.] – it was great to meet you! Let’s connect again soon (optional, depending on the conversation).
- I really enjoyed talking with you today! I have to run, but would like to continue the conversation – would you like to exchange contact information?
How do you interrupt or insert yourself in a group conversation that’s already happening?
First, remember to breathe. Approaching a group can be hard, so take a deep breath, then smile. Coming into a group that is already in conversation can be tricky, so listen for a bit. Once you get a feel for the conversation topic, if a natural opening occurs, feel free to speak up. Start by simply introducing yourself! Then you can ask open ended questions or comment on the topic being discussed. Being an active listener, asking questions to and about others, and having a positive demeanor will get you into the conversation.
If you need to start the conversation, have a few questions in mind – people love to talk about themselves. Have an idea about a popular current event, or something going on in the city that would allow people to connect and/or build a conversation. Things like where you went to school, sports teams you cheer for, restaurants you love, books you’ve recently read, all can lead to great conversations. Making a connection with someone in the group will help you feel more comfortable and connected. Don’t interrupt other speakers or talk over anyone, but slide into the conversation and be yourself.
How do you navigate talking to someone who doesn’t seem interested?
- Be transparent about your networking intentions by clearly expressing your desire to connect and learn more about their field or industry.
- Ask open-ended questions to build rapport and encourage conversation. An example could be “Can you tell me more about your experience in the [industry/field] and how you got started in it?” and “What are some of the biggest challenges you’re currently facing in your work, and how are you addressing them?”
- Be a good listener by paying attention to what the other person says, and you respond thoughtfully.
- Remember that only some people are interested in networking; some may be more focused on their work or personal life and may not be looking to expand their professional network.
- If the person is not interested or busy, please don’t take it personally; you can move on and find other networking opportunities.
How do you discover contacts in your desired industry?
What has been most effective for me has been tapping into other people’s networks. Reach out to someone you already know in your field (a professor, a former boss, a peer, etc.) and ask the question “Who else should I know in this industry? Could you connect us?” and then reach out to that connection for a conversation about their work. Meet for coffee. Figure out what information would be helpful ahead of time so you can ask genuine questions. At the end of that conversation, ask the same question – “who else should I know? Could you connect us?”
Once you get the hang of intentional networking, it really is an enjoyable experience!