Imagine you go to a conference or any other crowded event and you don’t know anybody. You stand in the middle of the crowd holding your glass and desperately waiting for someone to talk to you. You look around and see small groups of people who discuss together. Still, nobody talking to you. You wait a little bit longer, then you go to the restrooms, calm down, gather your strength and decide to start the conversation with someone. Luckily it is not needed because it is already time to go to the conference room and attend another speech.
Is there a chance that you could enjoy going through this networking hell?
I know someone who has made it. Mr. Conference. When we started working together and he explained his struggle, I was panicking. He wanted to change something I never managed myself. To be natural and confident while networking at conferences. To start engaging in conversations with people without too much upfront thinking.
I still do not fully understand how he made it, but in five months he became a networking animal. He was telling me unbelievable stories how he engaged in discussions with people. It was obvious that he was enjoying it. Hell became heaven.
By experimenting, learning on the go and noticing what worked, he developed his own technique. Step by step.
Here is a couple of points he focused on and his learnings:
1. Observing Himself and Others at Conferences
- Nobody felt really comfortable networking, everybody went through the same hell.
- It was easier for him to approach a person who was sitting and the person who presented at the conference.
2. Not Underestimating Small Details
- He needed to feel comfortable and wearing nice, comfortable clothes helped.
3. Knowing What Strengths He Could Rely on While Meeting New People
- His expertise – plenty of topics to discuss.
- Smiling, being friendly, open.
- Being cool in stressful situations. (Even when he hit the bottles displayed on the stand he was visiting and the noise of all the falling bottles attracted attention of half of the people in the exhibition hall. He started a discussion with the person who came to fix the damage by making a joke on how much publicity he had created for this specific stand.)
4. Being Aware of His Major Hurdle and How He Would Like to Cope With It
- The major hurdle was how to initiate first contact.
- He was clear that he did not want to prepare upfront. He wanted to start talking without thinking.
5. Being Ready to Practice „Talking Without Thinking“ on Any Occasion
- Company’s cafeteria, group discussions, informal discussions with a big boss and much more. The more he practiced, the easier it was at the conferences.
6. Having a Person Supporting Him and Noticing the Successes He Did Not Notice
- 1 second for a shameless self-promotion. Yes, of course, it was ME!
- By building on and reinforcing small successes, he had more confidence to go further beyond his usual comfort zone.
By taking small steps one after another, he achieved his big objective. He started enjoying the process of meeting new people. He discovered that being natural was not a problem, it was the reason why he could network so well.