At a recent event, someone I hadn’t met before came up to me and asked me for advice on how to network. I was flattered that the person asked me and puzzled at the same time. I asked him why he wanted my advice. He told me that he was observing me and noticed how easy it seemed for me to meet people and start a conversation with them. He also mentioned that I looked calm, relaxed and sincerely interested in the person I was speaking with. That last comment caught my attention and is something I hear a lot.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who you could tell was not interested in what you did or what you were saying? They might of even come up to you, introduced themselves to you first, and started the conversation.

Unfortunately, I’ve experienced that very scenario far too often. The person who asked me the networking advice apparently didn’t understand that in order to best network with others, one must sincerely be interested in the person they’re networking with. It’s been my experience that people for the most part can tell when someone is not really interested in them.

My first thought after his comment was “Of course I’m interested in the person I’m speaking with!” and I wanted to say that but I didn’t. What I did do was ask him why he wanted to get advice on how to network. He told me he wanted to get to know people and have people get to know him, but he felt uncomfortable going up to someone and introducing himself. I told him that’s a fair feeling to have if you’re not use to networking. The way to help get over that feeling is to simply start doing it. Going up to people and introducing yourself, but remember a few important points:

  1. Be Yourself – First and foremost. Don’t try to be something you don’t truly believe you are. I’ve always liked being informal and in most networking scenarios, being informal is the way to go. Remember that people who you want to network with, and eventually surround yourself with, will want to know the real you. People who like you and will want to do business with you because of who you are. One thing I see that really helps a lot of people in networking, including myself, is choosing to have an outgoing and friendly attitude. People don’t always remember what you say, but they will most likely remember how you make them feel.
  2. Breathe - Take a slow deep breath and slow exhale. More than once if you want. It will help you relax before you join a conversation or start a conversation with people you don't know.
  3. Know Your Audience / Know Where You Are - The reason I say this is that there are many different types of environments where you can network with others. Are you networking at a conference, at a party with neighbors, at a function for work? Many environments are formal, while others are very informal. An example of a formal environment may be at a business gala during the reception portion of the event, while an informal environment may be a sporting event. You don’t want to network at a party with neighbors the same way you would network at a conference representing your company or service.
  4. Look People in the Eye – When speaking with someone, remember that looking them in the eye when they are speaking to you, as well as when you are speaking to them, is considered polite. Not looking someone in the eye when they are speaking to you makes it look as though you’re not really interested in them. At the same time, not looking someone in the eyes when you are speaking to them makes it appear as though you are not being sincere. Quick Note: It’s OK to periodically take a quick glance away from the person because you don’t want to appear as though you’re simply staring at them either. :-)
  5. Avoid Getting Tongue-Tied by Preparing a Self-Introduction - Having a self-introduction prepared that is clear, interesting, and well delivered is a very helpful tool to have in your possession when starting a conversation with someone you don't know. How does one do that? The simplest way is to write it down. Prepare what you are going to say to someone when introducing yourself and then practice, practice, practice. The more you practice, the more it will sound natural and unscripted. What you write down will depend upon the nature of the event you're preparing for. Regardless of what you write down or the type of event it is for, what you say about yourself shouldn't take any longer than 8 to 10 seconds.
  6. It’s OK to Ask Questions – When you are talking with a person you’ve met at a reception or some other kind of networking opportunity, you can ask questions to help keep the conversation going. In my networking experience, I’ve found that I sincerely enjoy learning about other people (and many people sincerely enjoy talking about themselves). When I meet someone I pay attention to what they say in order to learn something about them. For example, if a person works for a particular company, a question I always ask is, “How long have you worked with XYZ Corporation?” (Instead of XYZ Corporation, use the company they’re associated with.) Many times the next question I ask after that is, “How do you like working for them?” At that point I’ve started the conversation going with the person and most of the time, they are more than happy to speak about their experiences. You can ask any question you feel is appropriate for the situation (about them or something else).
  7. Worried About Rejection? Don’t Be – It happens to everyone. Anyone who says they’ve never been rejected is only admitting that they’ve not tried it much if at all! There will be people who don’t respond to your introduction the way you would like. If you find yourself in that situation, don’t take it personally. Just move on. Creating and maintaining an outgoing, friendly attitude no matter how someone reacts to you will always make things easier. It also helps to have a sense of humor.
  8. Make It a Choice to Have Fun! - As I mentioned earlier, keeping a healthy sense of humor is a key ingredient to networking. Another one is simply to relax. At many networking events, I’ve run into people who are so serious about networking. They treat networking as though it is a necessary evil that must be done in order to succeed in life. Sometimes an individual can be so serious that they alienate the very people they are attempting to network with. Unfortunately, I’ve seen that happen far too often.

Remember a cardinal rule about networking:

The goal of networking is to establish a lasting working relationship with someone else.

If you find yourself nervous in networking scenarios, understand you’re not the only one. Everyone has different levels of experience and expertise when it comes to networking and no one is born being good at networking. The great thing is that everyone gets better at networking the more they do it. The more you practice networking, the more you just may be surprised at how much easier it gets!

Author's Bio: 

Gil Pizano is an experienced leader and management professional and is currently part of the management group within the business intelligence segment of a major. A member of the board of directors for the National Society of Hispanic MBAs in CT where he leads the IT and Social Media operations of the organization he is also a lifetime student of leadership. Gil has an MBA from the University of Hartford's Barney School of Business along with a Bachelor of Science in engineering from the University of Hartford's College of Engineering.