How to Break the Ice and Become a Great Networker
When you walk into a room full of strangers, do your eyes dart from person to person looking for the first friendly face and a comfortable spot of conversation to join – so you can melt away? If the thought of networking has your hands in an instant
sweat, you're not alone. Plenty of business professionals are in the same boat, paddling to stay afloat at networking events.
You don't have to be an extrovert to be a great connector. But it does take practice and even a plan. Start small and don't overcomplicate the process. Networking doesn't mean giving a state-of-the-union address, but is simply an additional avenue to connect with professionals for mutual benefits.
By now in your professional career, you've probably heard of developing an elevator speech. This summary should be no longer than 20 or 30 seconds - just enough to give those around you a brief idea of who you are and what you do. Generally speaking, an elevator speech is used to spark interest in a product or project, or even to sell yourself in an interview. However, for the new networker, having fall-back dialogue can help ease nerves. In addition, create a three-question list in your mind. When you approach a person or a group at an event, it helps to have a direction. It's easier to engage the other person with questions about them, rather than additional statements about yourself.
Find low-risk opportunities to interact with people and tip-toe out of your comfort zone. You don't have to dive right into the deep end of the pool. Small steps can go a long way in building confidence and becoming a good connector. You also shouldn't look at networking events as just a place to collect and distribute business cards. Focus on creating solid business relationships through repeated interactions. Incidentally, repeated interactions also mean more networking practice!
You may not become a great networker overnight. You'll likely need to attend many functions before your nerves begin to settle. But stick with it, and you'll soon find yourself enjoying the opportunities.