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Overcoming barriers and confidence issues

Face-to-face networking is any kind of networking situation which involves your physical presence in the company of others.

Actually being there in the flesh means that you can send out and receive a complex stream of information and impressions simply not available from online networking. Body language, tone of voice, facial expression and eye contact are all elements of interpersonal communication that we take for granted, but which contribute to the richness of the face-to-face networking experience.

Being physically present in the company of others covers an enormous range of situations, but what makes it qualify as networking is the way you approach it. You need to recognise the opportunity to network and be prepared to start or join a conversation which will offer you, and the people you are with, the kind of benefits James, Kelly and Rachel mentioned in the video earlier. Some people seem to be naturally gifted at doing this. For others it’s more of a struggle.

By this point you’ll have realised that being effective at face-to-face networking is going to take a certain amount of confidence. But what if you’re an introvert, shy or just lack the confidence to strike up a conversation?

There are some small steps you can take to minimise stress and build your confidence when presented with face-to-face networking opportunities.

  • Prepare: Assess the situation. What’s the worst that can happen? How many people will there be? Who will be there? Try to get hold of the attendance list in advance of the meeting and review it to find people you know and interesting people you would like to speak to.
  • Arrive early: This sends out the right impression, but another benefit of arriving early is that if the thought of entering a room full of people fills you with dread, there will be fewer people there earlier on.
  • Network one-to-one: Talking with somebody one-to-one will be easier than joining a big group, so approach somebody who is alone to ease yourself in.
  • Find a friend: If there are people there you already know, seek them out first. It is often less threatening to be introduced to contacts of a friend and can lead to you expanding your network and being introduced to like-minded people.
  • Take a break: It can be quite tiring listening intently and answering other people’s questions, so make sure you give yourself a break and escape the room now and then. After all, this should be fun too.
  • Listen: If you aren’t confident in taking centre stage, then play to your strengths and listen to others. People appreciate a good listener.
  • Ask open-ended questions: If you don’t want to be the one doing all the talking and wish to avoid those dreaded awkward silences, then ask open-ended questions that elicit a detailed answer. Letting others do the talking will give you time to think of something to contribute to the conversation.

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This article is from the free online course:

Business Fundamentals: Effective Networking

The Open University