Ah, networking. Is there anyone who doesn’t dread it?
There’s no hiding from the fact that being in the same room with complete strangers and attempting to impress them at the same time can sound like the most intimidating situation to be in.
And being an introvert really doesn’t help. I hear you.
But despite the universal awkwardness, and after realizing just how powerful it has been for my professional life, I tried to find ways to make it less painful, and little more exciting.
I’m lucky enough to have recently started my internship at iLab (start-ups hub funded by the Queensland Government), and to be presented with countless opportunities to meet very inspiring individuals and entrepreneurs from around the world through our start-ups accelerator program.
Bear in mind it was still very intimidating for me – a college student with bare minimum experience – to be surrounded by some of the best minds in engineering and CEOs of some of the world’s most successful start-ups.
I was very fortunate to have met Terry Dehghani in person, a sports expert slash travel blogger, who flew all the way from Tel Aviv to represent HYPE and launch Australia’s first Sports Accelerator program here with iLab.
I managed to build up enough courage to approach him and spent a solid hour talking about career goals and stealing some networking tips & tricks from up his sleeve.
To sum it all up, here are 4 simple steps to overcome your networking jitters, and make it a little less dreading:
“Start telling people what you want to do, not what you think you should do.”
Careers and career paths are no longer linear for a lot of reasons, and this ability to shift directions if/when we feel unhappy about where we are, certainly gives more freedom and control over our work.
But the reality is that many of us (myself included) are often drowned in thoughts like “Is this what I really want to do with my life?” and too often, we write off the idea of doing something we really like before we even tried because we fear the feeling of rejection or having to start over.
Terry told me how when he first moved to Israel people would ask him “What do you want to do?” and that his first respond would always be “Oh, I came from a legal background but I’ve always loved sports.”
He learned how it didn’t really answer the question and started approaching the industry that better fits his personality and career goals. He now works for HYPE, does what he loves, and has never been happier.
Ask yourself that same question, and take time to reflect on your goals and really learn your skill set (soft skills matter too). Once your objective is clear, you’ll be surprised by how you can approach people more confidently, with less pressure and more excitement.
“Project yourself in a way that shows confidence, but not cockiness.”
The idea of networking still generates a physical reaction in me, similar to queueing for a roller coaster ride: sweaty palms, nervous chatter, and a slightly queasy stomach.
It can be intimidating walking up to someone you don’t know, but a promising body language can go a long way. Remember when your mom would tell you to stand up straight? She was on to something.
You want to constantly appear open, approachable, and friendly at all time. A handshake is also one of ways to get someone’s attention with the instill sense of easiness and warmth – if done right. And seriously, smile.
Also, can we all agree that alcohol does help? Cheers
You will be surrounded by experts or attendees in your field, so take advantage of picking their brains. Take what they say seriously, and you’ll be surprised how much you can gain in return.
The Precinct, an innovation hub delivered from the Advance Queensland initiative
As constant public sharing of professionalism become the norm in this highly tech-savvy era, we can all agree that the digital age of networking is a blessing to the introvert in all of us.
Once the event comes to an end, that’s where the real works begin. “Goodbye” in networking essentially means “Welcome” to the world of Emails, LinkedIn, and Facebook connections.
Armed with a stack of name cards, check back in with them whenever possible and follow up any future work collaborations.
Do you have any other great tip worth mentioning? Let me know. Good luck, and I hope you rock your next networking event!