It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. It doesn’t matter if you have a Harvard MBA; if you’re going into business for yourself you need to put yourself out there and make connections. Otherwise, how can you expect your business to succeed?
If you identify yourself as shy and introverted, however, making conversation with strangers can be challenging.
Even the most outgoing people can feel awkward at networking events because it’s hard to make conversation with someone when you want something from them, whether it be a sale or a career opportunity. It’s always a difficult balance to figure out how direct to be in these situations.
Luckily, here are a few tips for even the shyest person to make valuable use of networking events. (Some of which I myself have learned through trial and error.)
1. Begin with The End in Mind
The first thing you should do before you go to a networking event or meet anyone is to figure out what you want and how the people at the event can help you get it. Do you want capital for your business? Do you want to make sales? Are you looking for potential partners who have skill sets that would be valuable for your business? Whatever it is, define your goal.
2. Do Your Research
While it’s productive to talk to as many people as you can, you want to be strategic about it. It would be a waste of time time to talk to every single person, so make sure to research who’s going to be there (either through the event’s website or through Facebook) and figure out the three or four people who can help you achieve your goals. Is a major venture capitalist that specializes in your industry going to be there? Will there be new potential clients for whom your product or service could really make a difference? These are the people on whom you want to focus your networking skills. Even if you can’t find a master list of every guest, chances are that the event is posted to Facebook and you can look at the invited guest list and do your research from there
This erases some of the awkwardness of an initial encounter because you have already done your research about who this person is, what they do, and how you can help each other. This gives you something concrete to talk about from the get-go. In addition, it’s more productive to make deeper connections with a few people rather than making shallow connections with a lot of people.
3. What To Talk About
It’s both a blessing and a curse of networking events that everyone is strictly there for business. On one hand, you already have a clear topic to talk about. On then other hand, how do you approach this topic without sounding like you’re trying to make a sales pitch?
Though it is an awkward balance, the best way to approach this topic is by talking about your passion. Don’t talk about numbers and figures (which the other person can probably find on your website anyway), talk about what brought you to where you are. Why this company? Why this industry? What gets you out of bed and going to work in the morning? Not only is that a more interesting story than your sales projections for the next quarter, but it also makes you more human and creates a genuine and sincere conversation because your openness and enthusiasm will make others more likely to open up to you.
As passionate as you are about your business, be sure to ask the person about themselves as well. Maybe you found something in your research that you find particularly interesting and you want to learn more. Not only will this allow you to learn key information about how you can help them when you’re making the pitch, but you’re also showing the other person that you are interested in them as well, which will make them more likely to want to work with you in the future.
4. Catching Flies with Honey
Now is not the time to make a proposition or a sales pitch. Because the networking event is ostensibly a social event, bringing business into the conversation in an overt way may feel heavy-handed. The networking event is a door to build a connection, so make sure you leave the conversation with their business card and contact information. Chances are that people are more than happy to give you that information because they will have something to gain by sharing it as well.
Don’t underestimate these connection building events because it will be so much easier to try and do business with someone with whom you have a personal connection, and this will set you up for business success in the long run.
These tips should erase most awkwardness and allow you to feel more confident. When you’re the thinking about getting to know someone rather than how they can help your business, things should go much more smoothly and feel more natural. One final tip: even though it’s important to identity specific people you want to talk to, don’t underestimate or overlook anyone. Who knows? The person who you meet over by the shrimp cocktails could be looking to invest in a company exactly like yours. Also remember to relax and enjoy the free food in the process!