Last week, I wrote about conferences and how to survive them. If that sounds like something you need to know you can catch up here. For me, smaller and more personal events can be even more nerve-wracking. At least in a big exhibition hall you can be relatively anonymous if you want to. Walking into a room where everyone knows each other and might just stare at you is just terrifying.
The good news is, it can be done. You just have to do your research, put on your biggest pants and go.
Networking events are not all created equal. Personally, I hate those corporate events which mainly involve drinking. Everyone stands around talking so loudly that I suspect they’re trying to impress the people on the other side of the room and not the one they’re talking to. I end up talking to the people I came with.
I much prefer something with a focus, even if it’s just that everyone gathers around the same table. My absolute favourites are the ones where you get to chat over lunch. They generally aren’t free but they’re much more civilised.
There are people who thrive in the type of group where you have to make a certain number of referrals each week; I’m not one of them but you might be.
Think about what type of event is going to suit your personality and start looking around.
Since becoming self-employed I’ve realised that I know a lot of other self-employed people. I’m also lucky to live near Leicester where there’s a thriving cultural quarter with lots of creative businesses. It means that I’ve been able to find out about local events through social media and also word of mouth.
Speak to people about the events they attend and what happens there and you’ll get insight into whether it might be for you.
Otherwise, you could send a message to the organiser introducing yourself and asking about the event. The organiser’s personality will often tell you a lot about the way the event will run. If you tell them you’re nervous and they’re rude in response, it probably isn’t the group for you.
I know, this is the hardest bit. Just take a big deep breath and do it. Some events, particularly the paid ones, will have someone there to greet you. I recently joined a local networking group for women in business. I was invited along as a guest by a client who was then taken ill and couldn’t go. Thankfully, I was greeted by the warm and friendly organiser who immediately introduced me to two equally lovely people.
If that doesn’t happen to you, see if there’s somewhere you can get a drink. All networking events have somewhere to get coffee. It gives you something to do and also someone to ask about the event. I did this at my first ever solo networking event and found that the organiser was standing next to me at the bar.
Have a conversation
Saying hello to people you’ve never met before could be the second hardest thing about a new networking group. The thing is, you only have to say hello. Maybe ask people what they do. You don’t have to walk in and start selling yourself. In fact, it’s better if you don’t. Often, the best way of working out whether the event is right for you is to listen. Contribute to the conversation if you can. This can be a tough one for me. I tend to ramble when I get nervous.
Ultimately, you’ll know you’ve found the right event when you come away feeling as if you’ve had a good chat. Unless you want to be loud and impressive, but I’m the wrong person to ask about that!
If you want to try a new approach to your content marketing, I’m for hire! Get in touch or register here to receive regular updates, special offers and a free copy of my guide, ‘Marketing magic: your indispensable guide to creating amazing headlines’.