Here it is, Day Two of a conference you attended to build your network, and you’ve barely spoken with a soul, let alone made “connections.” It’s six p.m.—time to attend the “pre-dinner social hour,” and you begin to experience a familiar set of symptoms: “fight or flight” adrenalin accompanied by slight nausea and fantasies of hiding in your hotel room until it’s time for dinner. You decide to spend your pre-dinner hour checking email while berating yourself for missing yet another networking opportunity at this conference.
While not everyone feels this level of angst, most people experience some discomfort connecting with strangers at networking events. Though social media facilitates amazing opportunities to connect, electronic networking doesn’t replace the value of face-to-face professional relationship building.
Fortunately there are simple techniques that can greatly increase both our ease and success in leveraging business social events. Below are suggestions that many of my clients have found particularly helpful:
Before the event:
- Vision: Take a comfortable sitting posture and spend three to five minutes visualizing your ideal experience at the event. For example, see yourself feeling relaxed and confident as you enter the room and effortlessly engage with one delightful person after the next, truly enjoying each conversation. Imagine that several people are able to assist with your future plans and want to schedule follow-up meetings with you. Experience how happy you feel that you attended this gathering.
- Breathe: Before entering the event, find a quiet place where you can have a few moments to yourself. Stand with your feet hips-width apart. Let your arms hang loosely by your sides and release any tension you’re holding in your shoulders. Take a deep abdominal breath, slowly inhaling and allowing your abdomen to expand. Then slowly exhale, releasing the breath fully. Continue at a relaxed pace to complete five cycles of breath. Take a moment to enjoy the natural uplift you experience before walking into the event.
At the event:
- Be a welcoming presence: As you enter the room, practice “being the seer, not the seen.” Remember that other people might also feel a bit shy or uncomfortable. You can greatly diminish your own self-consciousness by helping others to feel welcome through your gentle eye contact and smile. If you feel uneasy, repeat the following question silently to yourself : How can I help others to feel welcome?
- Release expectations: Remain very present and notice whom you feel naturally drawn to approach. You might quietly join a small group of people or introduce yourself in a friendly way to someone standing alone. Release any expectations about the number of people that you should meet—a meaningful conversation with just one individual can be of tremendous value to you both.
It takes most people a little time to expand their comfort zone around networking. Fortunately, the rewards are usually well worth the personal investment. Try to be patient. With practice, you may even begin to actually look forward to business social events!
Copyright Jill Kanter, 2015