You do not need me to tell you that networking is good for business. As an entrepreneur, you probably have attended numerous networking events and have participated in some kind of workshop or training on how to improve your networking skills.
I have observed that the biggest challenge for many entrepreneurs when it comes to networking is not lack of networking skills but networking anxiety. Networking anxiety is real and if not dealt with the right way can destroy your credibility, trustworthiness and authenticity.
I don’t believe in networking in the traditional sense. For example, using networking scripts or giving your business cards to people who have not requested them. Traditional networking is like a sales person who puts a big fake smile on just to make you buy something. Instead, relating with and connecting meaningfully to people is more important. Business cards and social media are just tools and do not mean much if not used correctly.
Here are 7 ways to overcome networking anxiety and build credibility and authenticity.
1. It’s not about you, it’s about them
You destroy your credibility if you focus too much on what you hope to get from attending a networking event. Authentic networking is about others. Your focus should be on building meaningful relationships and how you can be of service. Remember, your most important asset in business is the quality and depth of your relationships, so focus on others.
2. Be natural
There is nothing more attractive like being in the presence of someone who is natural, simple, honest and genuine. When you are natural you are also credible, authentic, trustworthy, spontaneous and creative. Being natural means radiating simple humanity. Don’t force it! There are some people you are not going to be able to relate to and that’s ok. Not everyone you meet is going to be a connection. Some people are just hard to connect to. It’s called life.
3. Don’t use networking as a sales pitch
You should network because you have a desire and willingness to learn, share, help and build relationships. If you treat networking as a sales pitch, you will have a hard time connecting with people on a deeper level because you forego building a relationship that gives you credibility and authenticity. Ergo, you will not find new clients with a sales pitch only.
4. Don’t give people your business card when they haven’t asked for it
Nothing is more annoying than someone giving you his or her business card without you asking for it. What people remember the most is not your business card, it’s you they remember. A business card is a tool to provide your contact details, further information and continue your personal brand; in itself it does not build a reciprocating relationship.
5. Don’t use networking scripts
This one really kills me. Building relationships is not a job or task, so there is no need to use any scripts. If you carry a script to a networking event then everything becomes a performance contest. Using scripts actually increases your anxiety because you need to memorize unnatural text. Try to listen carefully to what the other person is saying and respond to him or her.
Share. Listen. Respond. Just be in the moment. Be spontaneous and go with the flow.
6. Build relationships, not contacts
It’s not the number of contacts that matters most; it’s the quality of the relationships you build that counts. You can have hundreds of contacts, but without investing time to build credibility you won’t turn leads into sales.
7. Don’t be a desperate wannabe
Neediness is the enemy of relationships. People will run away from you if you are too needy and desperate. No one owes you anything – eliminate desperation and neediness. Of course, if the timing is right, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Keep in mind that the key word here is “timing”. So invest in relationships and be of value to others and see what happens.
Building relationships does not happen only at business events. It’s happening all the time when you meet people regardless of when and where you meet them. Social media has made this clear. Every time is relationship-building time. Learning, sharing, helping and building never stops – do it every moment and every day.
Image credit: by Texas A&M University, via flickr.com.