Take the fear out of networking in just three moves

Networking might not come naturally, but that doesn't mean you can't excel at it
Know how to prioritise, do your research and always arrive early.
For some, networking is a joy – new people, new ideas and an opportunity to share your own. But for others, it just means an evening of performance and hard work. Actor Idris Elba has said of his own profession – and it’s applicable more widely – that “there’s a fast-track if you can do the networking. For some personalities it works, but for mine it doesn’t.”
Unfortunately, the benefits of being able to network are all too obvious – avoiding it because it doesn’t come naturally isn’t the answer. So what preparation can you do to ensure that the experience is as pain-free and profitable as possible?

WHEN TO SAY NO

First, if networking isn’t your forte anyway, make sure you choose your moments. Strategy consultant Dorie Clark has written for Harvard Business Review on the perils of networking for introverts. Being a morning person, she refuses any meetings before 8am, and also doesn’t accept any after 9pm. Don’t feel that you have to adhere to the “that’s what you do as a business person” attitude, she advises. It’s better to know when you’re at your best and stick to it – particularly if you find meeting and engaging with new people particularly draining.
Another handy strategy for discovering when to say no comes from Slate’s editor David Plotz. Ask yourself if you’d drop what you’ve got on tomorrow to do it, he says. If the answer is no, it’s likely you’ll regret saying yes to the event as it draws closer.

QUANTIFY IT

The next thing is to assess whether an event is really going to be a good use of your time. Often, large and raucous occasions aren’t conducive to forging a connection anyway. Founder of The Gem Project Amanda Ebokosia recommends focusing on what the event will bring you, and asking yourself whether there is something more valuable you could be doing.
Once you’re seriously considering something, she suggests researching it thoroughly. Get hold of the names of hosts and sponsors. It could even be worth asking for a guest list. This will provide reassurance for why you’re going and what to expect. Further, knowing you want to speak to a specific person will also give you focus on the day, diminishing the onus to talk to as many people as possible.

ORIGINAL STRATEGY

When it comes to the event itself, freeing yourself from default behaviours can make the process more palatable. Author of Networking for People who Hate Networking Devora Zack recommends countering the inclination to slip in late: “The opposite is a much better strategy. Being the first person there, it’s calmer... and people haven’t yet settled into groups. You won’t feel like there’s no-one to talk to.” And while nerves can mean it’s easy to overcompensate when it comes to talking, Zack emphasises the importance of focusing on those around you. A seminal 1957 study by Ralph Nichols and Leonard Stevens found that the average person remembers only half of what they’ve just heard from another person. Asking questions of others will take the pressure off, says Zack – it’ll also mean you’re more able to discern a worthwhile contact more easily.

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