Nervous before a networking event? Good!

 14 November 2014

Don't let nerves hold you back from making a splash at a networking event. Networking expert Darryl Howes provides a game plan for thinking differently about networking and channeling nerves so that they work for, not against, you.

"When we make a mistake in the presence of others, there is usually one party that notices it most: ourselves." (Image: James Fletcher)

You know the feeling: you are due to attend the ultimate face to face networking opportunity. Industry leaders from your chosen field will be there. Potential employers will be there.

Nerves are not a negative thing. They can provide you with energy.

But there’s one thing holding you back. That knot in the pit of your stomach telling you you’ll make a complete mess of it, jeopardizing your chances of a successful career.

So let's give ourselves the perfect recipe for handling these situations and make any nerves work to our advantage.

The pre-networking check

Let’s assume we have undertaken our pre-flight check before the event:

  1. We’ve researched potential employers we know will be in attendance.
  2. We have a means to pass on our contact details, perhaps via smartphone or business card.
  3. We’ve prepared a short summary of who we are, what areas we’d like to move into and why. This is so we can respond effortlessly when asked the question, "what do you do?"
  4. We have some small talk to hand. Perhaps we have done some research about the venue, the speaker or the purpose of the event. Small talk is important as a way to lead gently into any serious job-related discussion (and also to prove we are nice to know).
  5. Our Generosity Generator is switched to maximum so that we think of offering help first, and asking for it second.
  6. We are smart and polished in appearance and our body language reflects this.

Taming the inner chimp

We are outside the venue about to go in. What is known as our fight or flight response starts to kick in.

We can now take action to control what Olympic sports expert Steve Peters calls our "inner chimp". The chimp needs to be told that his services – effectively our evolutionary responses originally intended to protect us from harm – are not required for this particular exercise.

Small talk is important as a way to lead gently into any serious job-related discussion.

Take short gentle breaths from your tummy rather than from your chest. This will have the effect of slowing down your respiratory system and relaxing you.

Nerves are not a negative thing. They can provide you with energy and quite often channel a useful edge, allowing you to raise your game.

Laurence Olivier was once asked if, after many years on the stage, he still suffered from butterflies. "Of course I do,” he replied. “But these days they fly in formation.”

Reframe and rename networking

Thinking about the situation in a different way will also help.

It can be useful to rename things. If the term "networking" fills you with dread, don’t refer to it as that. Call it, for example, "meeting people".

Ask yourself: what’s the worst that can happen? In the general scheme of things, this single episode will not have a major effect on your life chances. We can remind ourselves that we have done our preparation and done it well. We are ready.

When we make a mistake in the presence of others, research shows that there is usually only one party that notices it most: ourselves. The best policy is just to continue on (perhaps after a short apology if you have made a social blunder).

Be a generous networker

Consider the other people at the event who will be feeling exactly the same way. Focus on what can be done to help them feel more comfortable.

If we notice someone standing alone, invite them into the group.

A great example of this is being generous when in a group conversation. If we notice someone standing alone, invite them into the group. It’s polite, it’s friendly and it will make us feel good.

In recognition of all our hard work, we should promise ourselves a treat – perhaps a bar of chocolate. Our evolutionary make-up actually helps here, as our brains are hard-wired to respond positively to reward.

Can we do it? Yes we can!

We now have a game plan for the next time we are about to attend an event. And we know the more networking we do, the easier it gets.

It’s also important after the event to give ourselves a pat on the back and reflect on the things that went well. We can resolve to do them even better next time. This is absolutely key as an action to build personal resilience.

Finally, let's eat that bar of chocolate. We deserve it!

Follow Darryl on Twitter @netnightmares