Networking doesn’t need to be scary

 Luxury lifestyle expert Paul Russell talks about how the fear of networking is not uncommon and gives his advice on how to make the most out of a networking event

The fear of networking
‘Networking’; a single word that can cause the most competent, qualified individual to shrivel in fear. How do I approach someone at a networking event? What do I say? How do I ensure I don’t end up looking like a fool? These are all genuine questions that I have been asked by individuals holding senior positions.

If you’re asking yourself these questions, you’re not alone. It is common to have a fear of networking. Networking is a social situation, and people often become so wrapped up in deciphering the right thing to say or do that they end up completely terrified. Yet, networking doesn’t need to be a daunting prospect.

Networking isn’t about making sales
The first thing to remember is that networking is not about making sales. So throw out any preconceived notions you may have about someone making sales left, right and centre. A networking event isn’t the time to be closing deals.

Networking is about developing relationships. Your prime goal at a networking event is to engage with others, and being interesting enough so that they remember you. Adjusting your perceptions of networking in this way can go a long way to alleviating worry.

The majority of networking event organisers now go out of their way to avoid the overzealous approach, emphasising informality.

Confidence is key
One of the greatest worries about networking are the initial moments when you are faced with a room of unknown people and have to ‘infiltrate the ranks’. This is something that many professionals dread because of the fear of rejection. This fear makes people envisage the moment when they’re casting about blindly looking for someone with whom to talk, but everyone is uproariously laughing and not interested in meeting someone new. If you let that fear take centre stage, it can inhibit you and even stop you from networking. If you see yourself as socially anxious, then you will feel socially anxious. Instead, visualise yourself chatting to new people, feeling happy and appearing confident and in control.

Prepare before the event
Prepare for the networking event by reading the news, not just industry news but general human interest topics so that you have topics to talk about.

Also consider your appearance, as feeling confident about how you look can massively affect your poise.

Introducing yourself
In many cases, the event host will initially introduce you to another guest, but if this isn’t the case, have an introduction ready. When you spot someone with whom you want to talk, offer your hand for a handshake, smile and make eye contact, say ‘hello’ and tell them your name. You can say: ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you,’ and offer a comment along the lines of how the event has a good turnout. This is called the ‘anchor’ and its objective is to gain common ground. When you are told their name, make an effort to use it. Not only will using their name help you to remember it (if you use it around three times), but a person hearing their own name makes them instantly more engaged and attuned to what you are saying.

Your networking status
Next is the ‘reveal’ where you offer something about yourself. Revealing insecurity is an area in which people can struggle, but being honest about the fact you’re quite new to networking can actually endear you to others and help you come across as authentic. Perhaps you might say: ‘This is actually the first time I’ve attended this networking event.’ An approach like this is a good way to build that essential rapport.

If you’ve met someone who is equally new to that particular networking event, you have an instant ally. On the other hand, if they are used to networking, then they will often take it upon themselves to introduce you to others and show you the ropes.

When revealing your networking status, you might also take the opportunity to say what you do, and ask what they do. Try to avoid interviewing your conversational partner as this can be not only incredibly boring, but it can also be extremely off-putting, such as being forced into an unexpected interview. Instead, offer a little bit of information about yourself, and move onto the next stage in which you give them a platform to talk. Ask for advice and say something such as: ‘Do you have any idea how these events work?’ This is a good way to continue the conversation and further develop rapport.

Approaching groups
Another question I’m asked is: ‘What if everyone is already talking in groups?’

Often, we can feel relatively confident in approaching a single person, but feel daunted by approaching a group. If this happens, give yourself a task such as finding a drink – not an alcoholic drink to give you Dutch courage – to give you a little more time to gain your bearings in the room and see what’s going on.

It can be tempting to approach the first group you see, but keep your options open and have a listen to the conversations that are going on around you. During this time, you may spot another person on their own, in which case you can approach them. If there is no one on their own, it is perfectly acceptable in a networking situation to introduce yourself to a group, saying that you couldn’t help overhearing their conversation and how interesting you find that topic. Networking events are designed for networking, so this kind of interruption would usually be taken in good spirit.

As for conversational topics, don’t be that bore at networking events who endlessly lectures about the finer points of their job. Yes, it’s fine to say what your job is but wait until you are questioned to add additional detail. Just because you are fascinated by compliance doesn’t mean that others will be interested in compliance. Your objective is to be remembered, but not to be remembered as boring.

It’s far more effective to ask about others in a conversation, giving them the floor and showing genuine interest. This leads to a more natural conversation and a greater depth to the relationships you build at the event.

Everyone wants to feel interesting, and it’s in your power to make someone else feel this through your use of phrases. Phrases such as: ‘I didn’t know that’, ‘that’s a very interesting way of looking at it’, or ‘you’ve really surprised me there’, all demonstrate your enthusiasm for what they are saying.

Changing the topic
On occasion, you will encounter someone who simply isn’t aware of the etiquette of a networking event. These people dominate the conversation, talk incessantly, and think it’s completely fine to pressurise others with sales talk. If this happens to you, be graceful and say something such as ‘that’s an interesting proposition, and I might get back to you on this topic,’ before asking them about something else entirely, or asking a question to a different member of the group. If you feel the need to leave a conversation, do it diplomatically by saying how much you have enjoyed talking to them and that you mustn’t take up any more of their time.

Don’t be scared of networking

A networking event doesn’t need to be a thing to dread. Above all, remember that everyone at the event will be there with the same goal, to meet new people and develop new relationships. The worst that can happen is that you don’t meet anyone with whom you click. The best thing that can happen is that you meet a lot of interesting new people, and create new professional relationships.

About the author
Luxury lifestyle expert Paul Russell helps individuals to navigate professional and social situations with ease.

Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London, a multi-national private training company with offices in London, Delhi, Mumbai and Visakhapatnam. As a renowned luxury expert, Paul works with individuals and companies on aspects related to etiquette such as small talk, dining etiquette, personal presentation and image, international etiquette and manners. At Luxury Academy, Paul designs and teaches workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills including leadership, communication and business etiquette.