Networking causes a fair bit of anxiety for a fair few people.
In the past month, networking events have been described to us variously as making people feel stupid, self-conscious, nervous and desperate.
It can also elicit feelings that networking is somehow demeaning or shallow, that it results in clammy hands or dry mouth, or that it all feels a bit forced and embarrassing.
If you’ve felt any of these things, you’re not alone. Take comfort in the fact that you’re actually part of a pretty extensive community.
Nothing feels natural anymore. Your sense of self is so heightened that even the most basic human functions, placed under the microscope, become quite a challenge to perform.
The 'right' way of talking, breathing or listening - you can start to question all these and more.
However, there is hope.
I once received a simple piece of advice that has transformed the way I see networking events, and freed me from my own harsh self-analysis.
It's this. Go into every networking event with the mindset: “How can I help?”
And mean it.
Take the pressure off you, your needs and the needs of your business and be consumed with a genuine and authentic desire to help as many people as you can.
A lot of the discomfort surrounding networking stems from a feeling that you’re selling yourself.
As you approach someone, the sense that you want something from the transaction is all too palpable. As soon as you’re in the position of needing something from someone else, it lowers your status and puts far too much pressure on the conversation.
A few years back, I saw someone speak at an expo and felt they could definitely benefit from our coaching.
A little later on, I caught the person having a bit of down-time. I thought: “I should definitely share my card with this guy.”
But as I approached him, I suddenly became so consumed with the fact I was selling and a sincere desire not to be a burden that I spent most of the time apologising for disturbing him.
As a result, I got in the way of him actually understanding what we do and how we might help.
In my desire not to be a burden, I became a burden.
Take the pressure off. You’re just offering a little bit of help.
On top of this, it's helpful to think of networking as a potential win-win scenario.
Stephen R Covey, who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said: “Win-win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions…Win-win sees life as a co-operative, not a competitive arena.”
When approaching someone, you’re not going over there to see if you can win business off someone. You’re going to explore if there's the possibility to make their life a bit easier. If there’s no synergy, that’s absolutely fine.
If there’s no possibility for a win-win, that is, if anyone loses out from a scenario where you’d work together, it’s a no deal.
With that in mind, here are five simple mindset tips for your next networking event. Try to be consumed by these, rather than yourself.
1) Back yourself
Have faith in what you and your business has to offer.
2) Research the crowd
Build up as much of an understanding as possible of the world of those attending the event. This context is valuable in positioning how you might help.
3) Embody the mindset: How can I help?
Take the pressure off by changing the focus away from winning business, and go in with a sincere desire to help people.
4) They’re not the enemy
People aren’t waiting with bated breath for you to fail. They want you to have something of value to offer them.
5) Think win-win
If working together doesn’t benefit both of you, then walk away. This strong ethical stance is actually quite empowering. You’re not ramming your business down their throat, but exploring the potential for a mutually beneficial relationship.
If you’re in business, then you have something to offer people. There’s nothing shady or untoward there.
It's worth remembering you'll only be at a particular networking event because your business may be able to help others that are there as well.
It would be a shame for people to miss out on this help just because you’re too busy apologising, or railing against the fact you hate these type of events, or over-analysing every little thing you do.
It’s not about you. It’s about them. Apply this paradigm shift and see what a difference it can make.