Last week, as I pulled toward my parking space at home, the adorable 3-year-old boy who lives next door ran up to my car. “I haven’t seen you in a while!” he exclaimed in the most excited voice I’d heard all week. “How have you been?” I rolled down my window and chatted with him until his grandmother quickly rushed over to sweep him up.
She was, of course, unhappy with his lack of fear, since I was still in the process of driving into my garage. But this experience made me wonder: How much more career progress would we all make if we lived with a little less fear?
I recently participated on a panel about networking at a local university. A question that came up multiple times during the panel was about shyness. How can you network if you’re shy? What can you do if you’re afraid to talk to people?
Just like public speaking is a fear many people face, so is being tossed into a room with a sea of total strangers. It’s right up there with eating alone in a restaurant, or traveling alone to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. Knowing where to start can be overwhelming.
Although the uncomfortable feeling of knowing no one may linger, you can still be a successful networker. It just takes practice.
Start out by packing your business cards. If you don’t have any, this is the time to get them. You can order them online for less than 50 dollars. They can be as simple as your name, email address and phone number.
When you attend a networking event, make sure your look is neat and tidy. You don’t have to wear a suit, but put yourself together in a way you can feel proud of. Think of what you might wear to work or to church.
Set a goal for yourself before you walk into the event. Your goal could be to meet three new people, to reconnect with three people you already know or some combination of new and old.
Look for opportunities to enter into conversations. Sometimes this will be a group that appears to be open to outsiders. Other times, you may find someone who is standing by themselves. Often, the person alone is both relieved and grateful for your kindness because they’re also nervous.
Introduce yourself. Start with your name and a confident handshake. Ask the other person about themselves – both professionally and personally. Find out what they do for a living. Ask them how long they’ve lived in Memphis and what brought them here. Be genuine. And, as always, avoid topics related to politics and religion. Just a few simple questions can launch you into an entire conversation. Before you know it, you’ll have a new networking friend.
After the event, take time to write notes on the back of every new business card you receive. Include the date you met the person, the event where you met them, and any personal information you learned about them. This will help you to remember small details when you reconnect in the future.
Send each person an email to say how much you enjoyed the conversation. Follow up by sending a connection request on LinkedIn.
Practice these simple steps and you’ll soon find you’ve become a master networker yourself. It will help you conquer your fear, and live more like my courageous little neighbor.
Angela Copeland is CEO/founder of Copeland Coaching, www.CopelandCoaching.com, and author of “Breaking The Rules & Getting The Job.” You can follow Copeland Coaching on Twitter (@CopelandCoach) and Facebook (Facebook.com/CopelandCoaching).