If the thought of attending a professional networking event strikes terror into your heart, you’re not alone. Even the most socially confident people tremble at the prospect of a room full of strangers who could either help or hinder their career progress, depending on how they present themselves.
What’s more, your fear is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your nerves will show in how you look, speak and act, making a bad impression on others and a bad experience for you.
Take comfort — many, if not most, successful people have been in your shoes. They’re successful, not because they don’t feel any anxiety, but because they have secret tricks that help them handle it. Check out these 5 tips from the expert career coaches at Integrity Staffing Solutions.
Identify Your Problem. Then Solve It.
Fears can seem more overwhelming when they all merge together in one huge mass. Make them more manageable by breaking them down into a list of specific sentences. For example:
I’m no good at small talk.
People will think I’m _________ [phony/pushy] when they find out I’m looking for work.
I’m afraid to approach groups of people who are already talking.
Nobody will talk to me and I’ll stand alone the whole time.
Once you have your list, write down ways to fix or work around each of these issues. For example, if you have trouble making conversation, prepare in advance a few things to talk about. The answer to some of your fears could be as simple as realizing that they’re groundless. Take the one about hesitating to let people know you’re looking for work: remember, everyone is there for the same purpose of furthering their careers, so your news will hardly be a surprise.
Do Some Advance Scouting.
The successful networker never goes blindly into the situation. Check out the event online, learn what to expect when you arrive and plan how you’ll deal with it.
Who’s going, and what do you have in common that will help you make a valuable contact with them?
Where is the venue and how will you travel to/from it?
Are there photos of previous events that can give you clues on how to dress, whether food/drinks will be served and so on?
Bring a Wing Man/Woman.
If you’re totally terrified of flying solo, go with a colleague — preferably someone who complements, not competes with, what you’re there to accomplish. If you don’t have such a person on call, email the event organizers and ask them to introduce you to several other attendees when you get there. They’ll be glad to help the event go well for everybody.
Fake It ’til You Make It.
Never let ’em see you sweat. In other words: Look, speak and act like a successful professional even if you don’t feel like one inside. However you present yourself, that’s what people will believe you are. Pretty soon, you’ll start believing it yourself!
This is something you really need to practice beforehand, either with a mirror or an honest friend. You might not even be aware of your nervous mannerisms such as slouching, fiddling with your hair or constantly repeating a meaningless phrase such as “you know,” but everyone else will get the message loud and clear.
Also, plan your outfit and make sure every piece of it is impeccably clean, polished, ironed, etc. That goes for your hair, makeup and fragrance as well. Look at photos of business or political leaders that you admire … and follow their lead.
Perfect Your Elevator Pitch.
After all, this is why you’re networking: to promote yourself and what you do. Go over that speech a hundred times if you have to, out loud, until you can deliver it smoothly and confidently no matter how stressed you are. But don’t just memorize words. It’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it. If you’re not enthusiastic about yourself and what you have to offer, how can you expect anybody else to be?
These 5 tricks have helped successful people conquer (or at least conceal) their fears and participate in networking events with assurance. They’re equally useful in other high-anxiety situations such as job interviews and sales presentations. Give them a try and see what they can do for you!