I like to talk (GASP!). You're utterly shocked, aren't you? Really, I love people. My part-time jobs throughout high school and college were all waitressing positions because I really enjoy meeting new people and learning about their lives. I flourish in a crowd.
Now there is certainly something to be said for social networking. I love me some Facebook and all of the people I can "socialize" with. Even if we never see each other in person, I can still have a viable relationship with folks otherwise out of reach. It's spectacular. And I've been known to start some pretty interesting group discussions (sometimes to my detriment).
But there is nothing quite like talking to someone face-to-face. Reading facial expressions and body language are a lost art on the Internet. I've lost count of how many times a misunderstanding has occurred simply because the true tone of someone's comment on a status update could not be adequately conveyed (after all, what does adding a smiley face actually mean?).
I recognize, however, that there are many people that don't have the social prowess that I possess, making networking a business of any kind more arduous than attempting to give a cat a bath (and almost as traumatizing). In light of that fact, I thought I'd slap together a few pointers to help you become a bit more of a social diva like myself (even if it requires a touch of acting on your part).
It's All About Perspective
Remember those days back in high school and college when everyone gathered in the same place to simply hang out together? Yes, maybe it got a bit crazy, but it still had a uniform purpose. Networking isn't much different, when you really think about it. Most large scale networking events are like a big party – complete with drinks (you're just expected to act a bit more mature). And even if you're meeting with fellow business owners in a smaller group setting, the idea is the same. Change the way you view one-on-one networking and you may find it a bit easier to be yourself and relax.
If you're still having a hard time relaxing, then work on some simple opening questions to get everyone talking. In fact, it wouldn't be such a bad idea to get at least five questions in your mind (write them down on the inside of your palm if you have to!) before you even arrive. Make sure the questions are open-ended and can strike up a conversation. Here are some fun examples that are ideal for an arranged business networking event (they might also show your witty side, but that's all in the delivery):
Keep the Schmoozing to a Minimum
One essential key to having a successful networking rondevu is to remember that it is very rarely about making a sale.
Yes, my friends, networking is more directly about establishing a rapport with someone rather than getting that person to buy your product right now. So, stir clear of the brown-nosing efforts that can only show you to be a schmoozer rather than someone people can rely on. Instead, be genuine and be wholly yourself. If people don't like the real you, then you probably wouldn't have a viable working relationship anyway.
Of note, a little butt-kissing doesn't hurt much, as long as you really mean what you say. For example, if you've just encountered your favorite local journalist at a networking event, don't be afraid to let him know (just refrain from giving off the aura of an obsessed stalker).
Quality, not Quantity
Don't walk into a large scale networking event looking to meet some sort of unspoken quota for connections. It's not about how many people you connect with on a monthly basis, but who you connect with.
Additionally, don't disregard someone if she doesn't have an immediate benefit to your business. While you may not be interested in connecting with a photographer right now, when you get a stroke of genius next year and revamp your business brand, you may find yourself wanting some professional photos of your team to drive that home.
Surprise – You'll Survive
You're not proposing marriage here. If someone is resistant to talking to you, or what you thought was a good-thing-going turns out not to be anymore than a one-event jabber session, don't get discouraged. And, by all means, don't stop networking with other business owners face-to-face. Unless you're on a sabotage mission, you likely won't do anything that will harm your business reputation. You're simply just working to expand your resources, and if one connection doesn't work out, that doesn't mean the next one won't.
Networking these days seems impersonal online interactions that have limited results. Take the time to get outside of the little box you've created for yourself on the web and connect with others face-to-face. Even if you sweat through your clothes at the idea of speaking to someone in person, a true blue effort implementing these techniques can make a significant impression to your benefit.