Top Three Things Taking Risks Can Teach You (and How Those Lessons Can Pay Off!)
by Ann Connor
We all know networking is a non-negotiable as far as a successful career goes. But for some, it can be an incredibly painful and awkward experience—leaving many to never willingly attempt it again. But thanks to one Fast Company contributor’s month-long journey in “settling in” to networking, we were able to gather up her words of wisdom and turn them into four steps to help you kick your networking anxieties to the curb and get connected!
Start Small: You didn’t learn to run before you learned to crawl, and the same goes for networking. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to people you don’t know well one-on-one, start with people you feel more familiar with—like coworkers, or even extended family and friends. Once you’ve practiced your chatting abilities and got a few solid networking questions under your belt, up the ante a bit. Ask a coworker to bring along another colleague or friend of theirs you’ve been dying to get advice or insight from. And remember to keep it sincere—whether it’s coffee or lunch, remain true to you and focus on establishing that personal connection above all else.
Reach Out: The next baby step is to reach out to old friends and see if there is some way you can help them. Networking isn’t simply about what others can do for you—it’s a two way street. For Gillet, it was introducing an old editor pal to her current Fast Companycolleague working on a project that was up her old friend’s alley. And if it doesn’t work out like you hoped (Gillet never heard back from her friend)? It will at least help you to practice your reaching out skills and remind you that being a skilled networker is also about how you can help others.
Branch Out: Now that you’ve practiced with those close to you, try to branch out of your comfort zone to a more casual networking setting. For Gillet, that was a knitting Meetup. Because the setting is more casual and focused on your personal instead of professional interests, it gives you the opportunity to let your guard down amongst people you’ve never met before—a key skill for when you finally do attend that professional networking event.
Network: The Big Event. Go for it. Even if it doesn’t wind up being everything you hoped for, at least it will teach you what to look for in your next networking event—if you are overwhelmed by the surging “need” to hand out information instead of make personal connections (and wind up feeling phony as a result), don’t sign up for that kind of event in the future. Instead, chase events that attract the people you admire or would really like to chat with, and keep your focus on a few quality connections instead of a mass distribution of your business cards. That way, you come away feeling the event was productive and authentic.
For even more advice on how to conquer this fear-not networking challenge, visit Fast Company for the full article on Gillet’s experience and extra bits of wisdom regarding her experience with networking.
What tips do you have to brave the dreaded networking event? Share with us!