Darren Lacroix, a former Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking Winner says that one of the secrets to becoming an effective public speaker is “stage time, stage time, stage time.” Translation: you just have to do it over and over again.
I believe that the same principal applies to becoming a better networker. The more that you network, the more likely that you will become more comfortable with doing so. There is an expression that says “practice makes perfect.” It isn’t true! If you keep making the same mistakes over and over again, you just become better at making mistakes. Conversely, practice with constructive feedback can lead towards perfection. The Toastmasters International Communications Program is based on that very principal. I have been a member for over 21 years at the time of writing this and I experienced first-hand the benefits of constructive feedback. When you are networking there isn’t somebody watching you so you will have to evaluate yourself as to how you did. This can be challenging as we tend to be self-critical especially in areas that we experience anxiety.
Networking Skills Self-Assessment
I would suggest developing some benchmark performance standards so that you can compare each new meeting or interaction. You would conduct this exercise later on after the event was finished. Some answers lead to yes or no answers. Others may be better answered on a sliding scale. If you keep records of your results you are better able to track your progress.
Some examples might be:
- I approached someone that I didn’t know and made the first comment. Yes No
- I listened intently while the other person delivered their elevator pitch before starting mine.
- I was able to deliver my elevator speech comfortably.
- I was able to maintain eye contact for much of our discussion.
- I initiated an invitation to go out at a later date for coffee.
- I was comfortable/nervous in presenting my business card.
- I was comfortable in ending the conversation and moving on to another.
- I was able to ask some questions that moved the conversation forward.
- Overall I felt less or more nervous in comparison to other networking events.
- What did I learn about myself in this networking situation?
Using developing better public speaking skills as an example, we find that new speakers tend to focus on what they see as their shortcomings. Their shortcomings take on a life of their own and minimize the skills and talents that the speaker already has. Research has shown that it is more effective to focus on the skills that you already have and strengthen them rather than focus on your own self-defined deficiencies. I believe that the same thing applies to networking and conducting 1 to 1 conversations. Find out where your skills are and use them more.
Use the benchmark assessment after each event and reward yourself for areas that you have shown improvement, especially those ones that have caused you considerable anxiety in the past.
So what if I do the assessment and I am still having a lot of anxiety? I am really nervous around people.
As I mentioned earlier, shyness can be present in different degrees. Social anxiety can be a problem. I believe that managing social situations is a skill that needs to be developed. Like shyness or social anxiety, we are not likely born with well-developed social skills.
Your challenge is to reduce your anxiety to a manageable level. Having worked in the mental health field for over 30 years, often as nurse therapist, I’m not going to make a blanket statement to the effect of “get over it.” There can be many causes of anxiety.
While I don’t believe in Big Pharma’s creating diagnoses such as “social anxiety” as a new market to sell their medications as a treatment, I do believe that if your anxiety appears to be excessive, you really should have a talk with your doctor. There may be other reasons for your anxiety that your doctor could help you with. Perhaps a mild antianxiety agent taken before you attend a networking session may help.
If your anxiety is excessive there may be an advantage to you if you were to seek out some help from someone with a psychological background i.e. a psychologist. Sometimes we can use a little help in getting past some obstacles that we have in life.
I had considered doing so at one point in my life to help me with interpersonal relationships but I chose a self-directed educational program instead. I found that one of my challenges was that I hadn’t developed many of the interpersonal skills at an early age. As an adult I had to go back and learn the basics. My research exposed me to assertiveness training and communications, conflict and crisis management and systems thinking. As I mentioned earlier about having a tool box, the more skills & techniques that you have in your repertoire the less likely you are to become overwhelmed in a situation. If I had to make a single recommendation to anyone as to the secret of leading a successful life I would have to recommend the different areas that I researched. It certainly made my life easier.
Another technique that I have used in developing my public speaking skills is that of using imagery. Before delivering a presentation to a group or a venue that I’m not used to, I will go up to the front of the room i.e. where I will be delivering the speech from and I will imagine that I am speaking. I will imagine where everyone is seated. I will see their smiling faces and appreciation as to what I am saying. I see myself as being successful. So when I actually deliver my speech, I have already been successful in my mind. This helps reduce the anxiety that I might otherwise experience and allows me to focus on my delivery. The audience quite often doesn’t react the same way in reality as they do in my imagination though. Five encores can be a little tiresome!
I believe that the same technique can be used prior to participating in a networking event. Imagine yourself being successful, talking to different people and feeling confident. There is a law of attraction principal that addresses creating your own reality. So conversely, if you go to the event with the expectation that you are going to have a stressful time, well then, guess what will happen?
Power Networking Logistics:
- Practice announcing your name out loud.
- Practice introducing someone else and deliver your introduction out loud.
- Practice asking questions to another person while you are sharing elevator pitches.
- During a 1 to 1 conversation with someone, invite them out to coffee.
- Follow-up with them to set a date & time for the coffee meeting.
- Ask some colleagues for feedback as to your attire that you are wearing to business networking functions. Is it appropriate and/or how could it be improved?
- If you don’t have a business card, have some printed.
- Practice presenting and receiving business cards.
- Purchase and start wearing a nametag to business networking events.
- Practice your handshake at home and put it into practice at business networking events.
- Practice maintaining eye contact in 1 to 1 discussions.
- Complete the Networking Skills Self-Assessment.