By Alex Davda, Business Psychologist and Consultant at Ashridge Business School
Networking is an important part of working life for most people. To avoid feeling awkward, prepare well before going to any events, be strategic and selective about who you network with and be authentic in your conversations to effectively connect with people.
It is useful to have some potential tactics you can employ to help you network in a way that works for you. First, it may be useful to establish that effective networking is not just about being outgoing, sociable and commanding the room. There are other skills that will help you build relationships effectively.
I suggest you approach networking in a more strategic manner and be thoughtful and deliberate about how you spend your networking energy. Prepare and plan so that you are focused on your networking strategy. For example, before an event, get hold of the delegate list, then read up about the organisations and the people attending and try to find some commonalities to engage with them about when you meet. You could even rehearse how you describe yourself in line with what you have learnt about them and their organisation.
Secondly, when attending networking sessions or events, rather than going in with the mindset of “selling yourself”, which makes some people feel uncomfortable, you could instead approach each conversation as an opportunity to apply some active listening skills and ask a few good questions to truly understand that person. A critical part of building any relationship is showing sincere interest in the other party. You should have already gathered some intelligence about the person and their organisation, and you can build relationships by showing a genuine curiosity about them, their lives and the organisation they work for.
You then can use your earlier homework and insights from your meeting to establish common ground (similar education, compare experiences, perspectives) then should feel more confident to describe yourself and your own experiences in line with the way they have described themselves. This approach will give you some time to build up some rapport and feel at ease, which will prevent you from coming across as nervous or anxious.
I also suggest you pay attention to your physical presence in the interaction, as it will have a real impact on the impression you make. Think about your body language, tone and gestures when you are preparing for the networking sessions. If possible, make sure you are attending events when you are relaxed and at ease. It will make a difference