Years ago, I went to a networking event and the speaker’s topic was none other than networking.
At the beginning of her talk, she asked the group of about 75 women “how many of you enjoy networking?” and I was one of maybe FIVE that raised their hand.
While I really do like to network, I also know (and coach) many women who don’t. Making the effort to attend events, chatting it up with strangers (in person, in breakout rooms or in a chat box) and speaking confidently about what you do can be awkward at best and torturous at worst…and when we dread something, we tend to avoid it.
The problem with avoiding networking is that it’s one of the best ways to build your business, get a new job or advance your career. While we’re lucky that we can connect and grow professionally online now along with doing business (safely) face-to-face, networking is about “putting yourself out there” which is not everyone’s cup of tea.
If networking is not your thing, here are a few tips to make it easier.
Choose your groups carefully
Whether you’re networking informally or investing in a paid membership, be sure to attend a meeting or two before you commit. Some groups have formal structures and guidelines while others are more relaxed and open. Some require monthly or annual fees (leads groups, for example) and others are free (like Meetup).
What matters more than the format is WHO is in the group and whether they represent your target market or can help your career. If you’re looking for a new job in your field or to connect with mentors or centers of influence, look for industry-specific organizations. If you want clients, vendors or partnerships outside your profession, you need to focus on groups with more variety.
It’s also important to feel a fit with the leader and those who attend. The more comfortable you are with the members and how the group is run, the better you’ll feel about opening up and sharing yourself.
Become a regular
Once you’ve found some groups that work for you, be sure to attend meetings consistently. After your initial introduction phase, it’s so much easier to show up to meetings when you can mix and mingle with both friends and strangers alike.
The biggest challenge I see with networkers are those who join too many groups or those who attend too sporadically. My rule of thumb is to only join groups that you know you’ll commit to…because solid relationships and growth opportunities develop over time.
I once had a client that belonged to so many groups (in person, back in the day) that she considered hiring someone to attend for her and take notes. As we worked together, she narrowed her memberships down from ten to three - focusing on those that gave the best return on her investment, her time and her connection potential. Her regular presence in fewer groups paid off in relationships, referrals, speaking and leadership roles that she couldn’t have managed while spreading herself so thin.
Let yourself be nervous
It’s interesting that many women who are great at relationships feel uncomfortable connecting professionally.
I’ve had clients share stories of freezing up during their introductions, ducking out of meetings (or leaving Zooms) because they feel so awkward or judging themselves for not being calm, funny or “smart enough” in group settings. Even though I like networking and I’ve done it for years, my heart still pounds when it’s my turn to speak!
It’s important to give yourself the chance (and often many chances) to get used to engaging authentically - and it’s completely normal to be nervous. Time and practice will help you share who you are, what you do and what you’re looking for (even with complete strangers) with confidence…just don’t give up :).
Want to network in your pajamas?
Success Goddess is my totally free, collaborative group for high-achieving biz/career women who want to grow professionally without burning out personally…like a virtual networking group you can hang out in daily without having to dress up ;). Join us here.