Story of a Shy Networker :
33, 34, 35, 36….counting the tiles on floor Peter slowly continued to successfully remain unnoticed. The muffled sounds of people around him chatting, connecting and exchanging business cards are unable to drown the loud thumping of his heart.
The glass of water that he finished an hour back is still in his hands as he needs something to direct all his anxiety to. He looked at the watch for the 22nd time realizing he hasn’t spoken a word in last eighteen minutes – since talking to the nice lady serving water.
After attending several Networking events like this one since diving into the world of entrepreneurship a few months ago, Peter has mastered the skill of being in a room crammed with people and still avoiding any substantial conversation. “Thirty more minutes and then I will be out of here”, he thought. He has very comfortably been able to always pin the fact that he gets zero leads from Networking events, on how boring and pointless these events are; but his business partner keeps on insisting on the importance of attending Networking events – so here he was.
Peter scanned the room again. There must be at least 250 people in here, he estimates. Carefully avoiding meeting anyone’s eye, he looked around and started walking towards one of the event booths which seems to have attracted a lot of crowd. Perhaps they are serving cookies! I am famished, he thinks.
Peter is knowledgeable and competent at what he does. When a potential client comes to him, he does make a good pitch with relative ease. However Networking is not his forte. He knows that can’t chat with strangers to sell himself, make connections or refer business. The excuses that he keeps on giving to himself, among others are that, Networking is a lot of work, he has no time, he is too new, he is good at what he does and that he will find clients some other way that doesn’t involve talking to strangers.
But Is there another way? And aren’t most clients strangers at first?
A big cheerful laughter that erupted from a group of people few feet away from him broke his line of thought. He hesitated and then tentatively moved closer to catch the engaging conversation the group seems to be engrossed it. That is when he noticed Bob.
Not him again, Peter thought. Bob is a star networker and a friend of one of Peter’s clients. Bob had tried to pull Peter into conversations at the last couple of events which had made Peter very uncomfortable. Both times Peter was able to cut it short, once by scurrying away faking an urgent phone call and another time nodding along until someone else took away Bob’s attention.
Here was Bob, once again, sharing a funny story from one of his fishing trips. Everyone was gathering around like moths to a flame.
“How does he do this?” Peter thought. “Doesn’t he feel scared that people wouldn’t like the story or worse, him? Or will start walking away mid-sentence? How does he know when to say what, and who to? How does he find energy to talk to total strangers who might be judging him, thinking he is pompous or talks too much?” Quietly, shaking his head Peter started to walk away from the power group which seemed to have gotten double in size now.
“Hey, Peter?” He stopped dead in his tracks. Horror hit him as he realized Bob has seen him and was gesturing for Peter to join them. Thirty-five pairs of keen, smiling eyes are now on Peter. “Strangers!” He feels dizzy and breaks into a sweat. He exhales through his mouth and starts walking towards Bob.
Bob greeted Peter with a firm hand shake never breaking the eye contact and after exchanging a quick hello puts his arm around Peter’s shoulders and turned towards the crowd. He paused for a couple of seconds and then addressed the crowd “I would like you all to meet my good friend Peter. He helped a mutual friend with his website and IT set up and he hasn’t been happier. If you are looking for some help in that area I strongly recommend that you talk to Peter.”
He gestured a tall gentleman “Paul, wasn’t your partner looking for someone to take a look at your website.” Paul stepped forward and shook Peter’s hands. Two more attendees who had similar needs walked up to them. Peter couldn’t believe what just happened.
This is the part Peter is good at; he has an audience who wants to hear about what he has to offer. He narrated his well-rehearsed pitch which ended with a lunch appointment where they will continue to discuss doing business further.
Peter got his first lead from a Networking Event!
In the world of Networking there are many Peters and there are many Bobs. Who are you? Peter or Bob? We all have at some point or the other experienced anxiety, concerns or doubts like Peter. While everyone may not be a Bob from the word go, following skills can be learned.
Here are some quick tips on how to step out in the world of Networking and become successful.
- Be out there and get talking: Networking Events, Seminars, Trade Shows, one on one meeting – attend whatever you can. Many of these events are free or very affordable to attend. Unless you are an established retail brand where customers just walk in, you will need to do the walking.
- Focus: Don’t try to meet everyone at an event. The aim shouldn’t just be for everyone to simply have your business card. Focus on few people at each event and have quality conversations with them.
- Build relationships: Have follow up conversations with the people you want to develop relationship with. Build trust first, business will follow.
- Fake it till you be it: You don’t need to be confident to look confident. Just act full of poise and speak up and before you know it you will be it.
- Learn continuously: Be up-to-date on your services and industry. But also know that you can’t know everything. If faced with such a question promise to find out the answer and keep that promise.
By: Naureen Punjani