Overcoming the Fear of Networking

Ask most people for their definition of networking and a common response will be it’s all schmoozing, selling and small talk – an excruciating activity akin to public speaking or an internal examination by your doctor – to be feared and avoided at all cost.

So why do most people despise networking and is there any merit in doing it?

Networking is a great way to generate new opportunities, particularly in comparison to cold calling or investing in advertising or marketing spend. It’s a relatively low-cost activity, networking that only requires an investment of time and commitment, and here’s why it’s worth making the effort.

  • Networking increases your visibility - the more people you meet, the more chance of demonstrating or sharing what you can offer.
  • Networking provides new opportunities – well-connected people are rarely short of work and are often first in line for the best roles on offer, many of which are never advertised.
  • Networking increases your knowledge – connecting with other people, particularly outside your immediate work or industry, enables you to broaden your knowledge base and increase your awareness about potential opportunities.     
  • Networking provides direct access – being able to access the right person, directly, without having to cold call is a big plus of having solid networks.
  • Networking offers a competitive advantage – there is often a wealth of information shared within close networks that never reaches (or benefits) Joe Public.
  • Networking is personally rewarding – having more acquaintances, friends and potential partners (business or romantic) is never a bad thing, after all isn’t that what makes Facebook and Tinder so successful?

Most people don’t enjoy networking and rightly so. Walking into a room full of people you don’t know, having to approach them and then to talk to them for one to two hours sounds about as appealing as a staph infection. But it doesn’t have to be so. 

The main reasons people tend to avoid networking:

  1. Anxiety around meeting new people – speaking to people you don’t know or approaching and engaging with groups of people is hard and can be daunting and most people are fearful of being rejected. 
  2. Having the wrong mind set – networking shouldn’t be about ‘asking for the sale’ or pushing your latest business venture, it’s about linking in with new people and establishing, and most importantly, fostering long-term mutually-beneficial connections.
  3. It takes time – attending events, staying in touch and updating social networks all require an on going investment of time and effort.
  4. Not recognising the need – most people are comfortable within their immediate circles and don’t see the need to invest in networking, at least not until the work or sales dry up.
  5. Not knowing how to network – networking, like any social interaction, requires a little effort and a lot of practice and there are plenty of tips and tricks to at least get you started.

Overcoming the fear factor

The biggest barrier to networking is the anxiety around meeting new people and the fear of rejection, so that’s the first thing to tackle. Think about the worst things that could happen – no one talks to you, you have a few awkward introductions or you get rejected? But you’ve survived that sick drop on your home break and have ridden Uluwatu so what’s a bit of social rejection by comparison? Rejection is a reality of life, whether you’re pitching for a new job, applying for a loan or hitting up someone for a date. As far as networking goes though, if you’re cold calling or trying to push deals, then your rejection rate is likely to be much greater.  

So, here are some tips to make networking a positive experience:

  • Approach networking with the right mindset: Networking is about connecting with like-minded or people who are professionally aligned, getting to know them and finding ways to help others. If you focus on that rather than trying to push or gain something then you’ll find networking to be much more enjoyable and you’ll get the benefits of making genuine connections.
  • Target the right networks: Find networks that are relevant to your professional or personal interests and connect with people with similar experience or who are working in similar industries or sectors that you are interested in. MeetUp.com is a great way to find people with similar interests who may be out of your immediate circles. 
  • Prepare well: Do your homework about the networking event and who’s likely to be there. If it’s an event you’re not familiar with then try and have a few topics of conversation in mind (other that talking about the weather or your latest political gripe).
  • Participate: Take an active networking role and make the effort to approach others rather than standing around like a wallflower waiting for someone to ask you to dance. Try and avoid the easy option of just hanging with colleagues or people you already know, better still ask them to introduce you to new people if they are with others you don’t know.
  • Follow up and keep in touch: If you’ve made some good connections and exchanged details then make the effort to stay in touch. A quick email to acknowledge the meeting in the days following is a good first step. That can be followed up by an offer to grab a coffee or drink if it’s viable to meet again in person. 
  • Make it a regular event: Networking – like any activity - requires time, commitment and practice, so make it a regular occurrence, whether that means doing something on a weekly or monthly basis – just keep at it.
  • Have clear goals: Think about what you want to achieve at each networking opportunity – for example, set yourself a goal of introducing yourself to three new people or perhaps you know someone specific is attending the event that you’d like to meet so make it a goal to approach them first. 

Networking is simply about connecting with people and fostering positive relationships, which can ultimately generate or create new opportunities in the future. It’s no different to making some new friends in the line-up or chatting to random locals while sussing a new surf spot, it’s all about going in with the right mindset. It does require effort and time but if you approach it with a positive attitude and invest in the right connections then you’ll soon reap the rewards. 

Posted by: Jaclyn Knight, on January 9, 2015
Categories: Articles