How to overcome networking anxiety
December is a month in which we are either steaming ahead to the finish line or wrapping things up while looking forward to next year.
Regardless of which one applies to you, this month is also likely to include a number of networking and meet-and-greet events.
That also means a number of mixed emotions: anxiety that you have to meet people, excitement because these events can be fun, dread because of having to deal with people you may not want to talk to, or irritation because of the time such events eat up.
Dread, anxiety or excitement
These feelings are due to that underlying thought stream that you will end up in a situation in which you are judged and seen by other people.
These are really disabling social awareness feelings that can cause you to become a bumbling, nervous or (even worse) an uninteresting person to talk to. The good news for the socially anxious is that even the most seasoned professionals go through each of these feelings at various times, despite their calm and confident exterior. That's right, you can learn to overcome these feelings.
You have a very brief window of opportunity to grab someone's attention and set the conversation up as an interesting one. Don't be scared to say something aside from "my name is X, I work at Y and my job is Z".
In fact, it may even help to think of that flat introduction as something to steer clear of because it might just create the kind of experience you are dreading. Have you noticed that the most interesting people take the conversation away from this formulated approach very early on?
What do you do? Where are you from?
These are the two most common questions asked at networking events. Unfortunately, these questions also receive the most boring and unimaginative answers.
Similar to the introduction, the best thing you can do is to have something interesting to say very early on and, if someone opens with one of these questions, make sure you have an interesting answer!
Find out as much as you can about other people
A lot of the stress and tension around networking relates to the worry and concern that you'll have to be talking about yourself a lot.
A better approach is to think about what you can find out about other people. This will make your networking events much less stressful and much more interesting. And more to the point, ask interesting questions that really extract interesting answers.
So, instead of asking questions that start with 'what' and 'where' (e.g. what do you do? Where?), see if you can better use the 'why' and 'how' (e.g. why did your company decide to.....? How did you manage to get away from the office to be here?). These questions can often break much of the awkwardness.
Finally, the most important thing is to be human. This may sound easy, but social anxiety can often causes people to freeze up and act a little robotic.
Being human means talking about what you like and want – and discussing opinions (although it's still good advice to stay away from politics and religion!). When you start to connect with people in this human way, you will find conversation becomes easy and enjoyable. It's also easier to move back to conversations about work or business opportunities.
Networking can and should be fun. If you find you are having any sort of adverse feelings towards networking then you can definitely benefit from shifting your approach to include some of the things mentioned above.
Eve Ash is a Psychologist, the founder of Seven Dimensions and the producer of 500+ training videos, including the latest comedy series Cutting Edge Communication. Eve has won over 150 awards for creativity and excellence and has been a National winner of a Telstra Businesswoman of the Year Award. She is an international keynote speaker on leadership, motivation and workplace culture.