5 Strategies to Overcome Fear of Networking
There can be nothing more intimidating than walking into a room full of people you don’t know, particularly when you’re hoping to develop connections with some of them. And you’re not alone—the people who truly enjoy networking are few and far between. But actively developing your professional network can be hugely beneficial, even if it’s painful at first. These tips can help you get the ball rolling if networking makes you cringe.
1. Give it 15 seconds
The most painful part of networking is, without a doubt, the first few moments—who speaks first? What should your first question be? How do you approach someone in the first place? But once you get over the opening awkwardness, things get easier. Promise.
It can be easy to psych yourself up about opening a conversation with someone you don’t know. But rather than worrying about the entire interaction, tell yourself ‘15 seconds’ each time you meet someone new. Keep a few opening lines or questions in your back pocket, like “what did you think of the speaker tonight?” or “so how are you involved with [the organization hosting the event]?” so that those first 15 seconds are less stressful than they would be if you were racking your brain for something to say.
2. Don’t overthink it
Instead of getting in your own head, remember that other people at networking events also came there… to network. When everyone in the room looks happily engaged in a conversation, you might assume that they don’t want to be bothered—but the reality is that they’ve likely come there to meet other people just like you have. Go into it open-minded: You might meet some really helpful connections, but also remember that this isn’t your only chance to network (as you’ll soon be a networking genius!). This relaxed attitude can not only calm your nerves, but also put others at ease when you open up a conversation.
3. Choose your targets strategically
While getting too bogged down in planning your approach can be stressful, there can be value in choosing the right people to talk to. If you’re new at a meetup, for example, approach the organizer to thank them for their effort and explain that it’s your first time attending—they might even introduce you to relevant attendees.
In addition, when surveying a room take body language into account to find a group that looks open to new joiners. While a closed circle may be hard or awkward to break into, two people facing outward while having a conversation will likely be easier to approach. Don’t stress too much about finding the perfect group—but use your instincts to find the most approachable bunch.
4. Practice in a more comfortable environment
You probably don’t need the reminder, but ‘practice makes perfect’ even applies here. Before jumping into a proper networking event, test out your strategies somewhere less intimidating. For example, approach someone new in your office to ask how they’re finding the job, or chat with a trainer at your gym who you wouldn’t normally interact with. Even if it feels a bit uncomfortable at first, remind yourself that it gets easier—and that not every interaction needs to be perfect.
5. Bring an accomplice
While you don’t want to use a friendly face as an excuse to avoid meeting anyone new, it can be comforting to go into a networking environment knowing at least one other person. Find a friend or colleague who’s also looking to expand their network—but rather than huddling in the corner, use each other as motivation to navigate the room.
Set yourselves a networking target: It can be arbitrary, but commit to speaking to two (three? five?!) strangers each, asking a question during a talk, perhaps approaching one new group of people every 30 minutes—whatever works for you. Gamifying the experience can help distract from your nerves—and ensure that you and your colleague grow your networking skills.