Overcome Your Networking Fears

Networking is the key to visibility and increasing your circle of friends

March 31, 2008

Allison P. Iantosca
Advisory Board Columnist

You are a highly sophisticated, well-adjusted grown-up who has generally been around the block a few times and can handle just about whatever life throws your way. So why is it that the thought of networking, a thing so vital to your career, sounds about as good as finding a seat in the high school cafeteria? Networking is wonderful. Repeat after me: networking is wonderful. And you, too, can do it.

Networking events are really just big parties. There's usually good food, maybe a little wine, a host who wants to make you feel very welcome and a bunch of people who need to talk to a bunch of other people. It's a myth that you need to have a perfected elevator pitch or that you need to hand out 10 business cards a minute. Just like Mr. Studly in high school, all that anyone will remember of you is that you came on too strong. Relax. Breathe. And once you feel centered, here are a couple of other tips:

  1. Like all good social events, it's always handy to have a wing man. See if someone else from your firm can join you. Often the event is free so it's no added expense, but it is double the exposure and always gives you someone to talk to.
  2. A day ahead of time, e-mail the event organizer and ask for the RSVP list. Let them know you are using this event to network and it would be really helpful to see who else is going to be there so you can make the best of your night. This is a wonderful two-fold opportunity. You can see if the crowd is a good fit for your business beforehand and you can determine the four or five people you really need to connect with to make the night a success.
  3. Watch out for the hold-on-talkers. One way some have learned to cope with a networking event is to find one friendly face and talk to that person for the whole night. Lose that guy. Nine times out of 10 he's not even remotely related to your business nor is he going to help you meet anyone else.
  4. Figure out who you know and have them introduce you to who they know. Unlike high school, where if you went up to a group of girls and stood next to them for a few minutes they would continue to ignore your presence, at a networking event, the group has to open up and include you in the conversation. If you see someone you know talking to someone else, go stand next to him or her. They'll open up the circle to include you.
  5. Enter the fray. Walk directly to the bar, not to pepper your nerves with alcohol, but the line at the bar is one of the best places to start up a conversation. Usually someone in front of or behind you is alone and looking for conversation, too. And, you don't have to talk business.
  6. Yes it might be good to have a few snippets about who you are and what you do, but, honestly, don't you remember that funny guy who told the story about hitting a tree on his latest ski trip? You know, the guy who owns a condo at the same mountain your family has been going to for years? It's really nice to fill your world with familiar faces and friends.
  7. Once you meet someone, introduce that person to someone else. You'll be surprised at how quickly people will describe you as the person everyone knows.

And that is the key to visibility and successful networking. Networking isn't about how many business cards you get out in a night; it's about increasing your circle of friends, one person at a time. Wouldn't it have been nice if there were someone to do this for us in high school?

Author Information
Allison Perry Iantosca is vice president of marketing and sales for F.H. Perry Builder, a preeminent custom builder and remodeler in the Boston market. She can be reached at aiantosca@fhperry.com.

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