If you are nervous about public speaking, you may also feel uncomfortable about networking. For many people, small talk and meeting new people can be a source of anxiety. 

If you don’t care much for the chit-chat that comes with a networking event you may be thinking:

  • I don’t have anything interesting to say.
  • I don’t know how to introduce myself without making it all about me.
  • I feel uncomfortable when it seems like everyone else is in a group. 

I’ve felt all of the above, and over the past few years, I have had to work at getting comfortable attending networking events. If you are nervous about speaking in public, then networking events are an excellent place to immerse yourself in conversation, even if it feels awkward at first. You may also like to try to focus on being a connector at a networking event.

The way to tackle a networking event is to have a strategy.

Consider the following:

  • You are there to serve
  • You are there to learn
  • Your aim is to make quality connections
  • You can leave when you want
  • You are probably not the only one in the room who is feeling uncomfortable.

What can you do when you arrive alone at networking events?

Your first stop may be the bathroom. Try on a Power Pose and say to yourself ‘you got this’.

Then as you step into the room ensure you have a confident posture, open body language and a smile. 

Actions of confidence come before feelings of confidence. 

Find someone else alone. That person may well be feeling a little awkward too.

You may prefer to stick to the edge of the room for a while, as you will be less overwhelmed by people. 

As you build your courage, you can look for a group of three or five and find a gap in their circle, step in to say ‘hi, can I join you?’. If they are deep in conversation, they may not immediately acknowledge you, wait it out and then introduce yourself.

What can you do if you arrive with a friend?

It’s easy to stick with the friend who you came with; however, that doesn’t help you network and ultimately get over feeling nervous about public speaking and meeting new people. 

Perhaps you can stay together for the first 15 minutes and then make an effort to go separate ways. Or you could invite another person along to join the two of you making a group of three. One of you could then step out and go and meet others. 

Alternatively, the two of you could look out for a group of three and go and join that group.

It is best to avoid attempting to join others in pairs or groups of four as those people are likely to be deep in conversation in their couple, and it is harder to be accepted in. 

Feeling awkward?

Don’t be tempted to get out your phone and start scrolling on social media or pretending you are talking to someone, and avoid offering to help the organisers or staff.  I’ve done both of these things to avoid feeling super awkward. It doesn’t help! I used to have a habit of attending conferences and ending up behind the registration desk or helping set up tables – the organisers may appreciate it, but it is not helping you push out of your comfort zone. 

Exit networking events gracefully

Sometimes it feels like the time to go, but you are stuck in a conversation, or you may think it’s impolite to leave early. When the time is right for you to leave, best you do so with grace and without fuss.

If the host is free, you can thank them and leave. If the host is engaged in conversation, then leave the event and follow up and thank the host the next day. 

If you are in conversation and you want to leave, you can state “I’ll be leaving in a few minutes,”. And then go—no need to make an excuse or offer apologies.

Business cards or not?

It’s a personal preference. I will carry a limited number of business cards with me and only offer a card if I am asked for one. I prefer to connect with the person right away using Linkedin. 

Some people will hand a card to everyone they meet. One way you can accept the card without adding to the stack you may have at home, is to take a picture of it. There are plenty of Apps that store business cards. 

What is your follow up system?

Follow up is extremely important. Let’s assume that you met at least one interesting person at the networking event. Perhaps you had a conversation, and you felt some alignment with them. Maybe there were others who you had a brief interaction with, and you’d like to continue a conversation.

LinkedIn is a great way to stay connected, and as a professional platform, you can’t beat LinkedIn for ease of use. There is a neat feature built into the search bar of LinkedIn on a mobile device. You can scan and connect with  the other person using the QR code that is part of their profile. It makes it easier to continue the conversation via message afterwards. 

There are plenty of CRM systems that can make it easy to store contacts and make notes to help you remember.

Whatever works for you, have a way to follow up those contacts who you would like to speak more with.

Networking is about finding out who you can serve, who you can ask for help and how you can continue the conversation. It can be the beginning of a fruitful business relationship and a great way to improve your public speaking. 

About the author

Lisa Evans helps professionals to craft compelling business stories and become exceptional speakers. Lisa is a certified speaker coach, TEDx speaker coach, four times author, NLP practitioner, graphic recorder and visual storyteller, and improvisational actor. 

She has coached thousands of leaders across a range of industries, including resources, banking, finance, engineering, retail and sales as well as not-for-profit and community associations. 

If you wish to take advantage of a complimentary session in order to chat about how you can become an exceptional and successful speaker with a stand-out brand, then use this link to book a time to chat.

Here’s how I may help you

My services include:

Business Storytelling Coaching – together we can get started to create your suite of stories.

Executive Speaker Coaching – if you have an upcoming guest speaking opportunity, funding pitch, conference talk or you want to be an outstanding speaker, we can work together on your technique. You will see the results after one session.

Tailored Workshops – I can come to you, or we can host a workshop offsite for your team. From half-day to two-days immersive, this customised workshop is an ideal way to kick start your business storytelling strategy and get the whole team telling stories.

Keynote/Guest Speaking either in person or via virtual means at your next conference or event.