What’s the big deal? Its just meeting and talking to people, sounds easy right? Not for everyone. Introducing yourself to strangers, making the right impression and walking away with a feeling that your time has been productive can be an overwhelming prospect.
You might be ready to kill it–determined to meet as many people as possible–knocking their socks off in the process. Or, you might be nervous, questioning your ability to make the right impression and wondering how to make the most out of networking events when the fear of making ‘small talk’ is all consuming.
Extroverts and Introverts
I am not an extrovert (I recently confirmed my suspicions after reading ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain) and I am proud to share that. While society has created a sense that we all need to be ‘sales’ people–outgoing with larger than life personalities, the reality is we are simply not all the same. In fact a 1/3 of the people you know according to Cain are Introverts, so I am not alone.
Some people can enter a room and the more focus on them, by as many people as possible creates an environment where they excel. Others (like me) would rather not be the focus of attention. Introverts have special powers too, Susan explains this so well.
Understanding your personality will help you to use your strengths to your advantage and not second guess who you are. We are all different and that–my friends–is an amazing thing!
When you walk into a networking event, the environment alone can be overwhelming. A large venue, lots of people and tons of stimulation–especially at a Food & Beverage event–a perfect storm of nerve creation!
You walk past an exhibitor that offers you samples of food. You’re thinking (if you are anything like me) great opportunity to introduce myself, but do I have spinach in my teeth now? That will make a lasting impression!
4 Steps to Take Before You Go…
I have been going to networking events for almost 10 years and they still make me nervous to a degree, but I do the following and it makes a huge difference;
Set an ‘Intention’ to enjoy yourself.
Look at all the positives that could come from the event–the new people you might meet or opportunities that might arise–but intentions are not goals. There is no particular outcome attached, so you can’t beat yourself up. If the person you really wanted to meet was not there or the interview you hoped to land did not materialize, let it go, there’s always next time.
Take the pressure and stress out of the situation and simply intend to enjoy the event, come what may. You’ll be amazed how changing your perspective on networking can change the outcome entirely.
Make sure you understand the purpose of the event and you have researched the people/companies that will be there to the best of your ability. Being informed will make you feel more confident. If you do strike up a conversation and can speak to a recent news event–company or product–that’s a great opportunity not to be missed.
Find out what social media # the event is using so you can become part of a larger conversation (perfect for introverts). The organizer will already be using it more than likely, to generate awareness that will continue throughout the event. Its a great way to grow your network and have a voice.
Let People Get to Know You
Don’t try to be someone or something that makes you feel disingenuous or fake. The Food & Beverage Industry is large, but you will find that you bump into the same people at all sorts of events and shows throughout your career. As you move through your career you could work with someone in the future you met in the past, so my best advice is to just be you!
Have at least one meaningful conversation
If your goal is to make as many connections as you can then go forth and collect as many cards as you can carry (those freebie bags will come in useful). Invitations on LinkedIn create connections, so essentially you are doing the same thing. Remember though, you have the opportunity to do so much more.
Face to face conversations are different, they take more time and attention but are worth 100 connections on social media. One in-person conversation that leads to a REAL relationship can change everything. Take it from someone with almost 20,000 connections on LinkedIn, I would say less than 1% are people I have developed a relationship with, but it takes time (and it’s worth every moment!)
I may be wrong, but I don’t think this will ever change. What do you think?
Related: Workopolis: 10 Conversation Starters
(Oh, and try the samples. Whats the point of being a member of the Food & Beverage Industry if you don’t enjoy the yummy food!)