The Free Online Dictionary defines “schmooze” this way: To converse casually, especially in order to gain an advantage or make a social connection.
Some of us are born schmoozers, which is a great talent to have in building a business—but a lot of us aren’t. For many people, attending a networking event of any kind is an ordeal only a bit more preferable than getting a tooth pulled. The prospect of standing in a crowd of strangers and magically enthralling them with small talk seems impossible to turn into reality.
But the ability to schmooze—and thereby make valuable connections to help your business grow—should be a part of every entrepreneur’s arsenal. Here are some suggestions to overcome your dread of networking:
1. Think of it differently. Instead of viewing this activity as a major event—effortlessly working a crowded conference room, for example—think of it as simply starting up a conversation with someone waiting in line at the ATM. Sometimes scaling down the idea of networking can make it less intimidating.
2. Look at it as a business project. Give yourself an objective, just as you would any other project. In this case, the goal might be to conduct one meaningful conversation at the upcoming event. Build a game plan that helps achieve this goal.
3. Rehearse your lines. Another way to frame the activity is as an “acting gig.” Prior to the event, come up with a few relevant and interesting topics. Then rehearse some opening lines related to those topics. Also, prepare an interesting response to questions you’re likely to be asked yourself, such as “So what brings you here today?”
4. Be ready with your elevator speech. You should already be able to pitch yourself and your business in 30 to 60 seconds. (If you’re not, a networking event is a good reason to create a compelling elevator speech.) People are naturally curious about you and what you do. Your job is to offer a brief response and leave them wanting more.
5. Practice with some one-to-one encounters. Talking face-to-face with a single individual might be your preferred mode of networking, so schedule times to get together with a new contact over lunch or coffee. This is also good practice for a larger crowd. At your next networking event, assign yourself the task of meeting a handful of people and setting up some one-to-one meetings for later on.
6. Give value. One reason people dread networking is because they think it’s all about selling themselves—and many of us lack the confidence (or excessive ego) to be comfortable doing this. Instead, think about how you can give value to someone else, based on your unique knowledge and experience. For example, when you meet someone at an event who describes a business challenge you’ve encountered yourself, offer some helpful and practical advice on overcoming that challenge. Or if you meet a person whom you think might benefit from meeting someone else in your network, offer to make the introductions. Just like that, you’ve provided value and formed a connection with your new contact.
Above all, work on building a relationship with the people you encounter at a networking event. This includes exchanging business cards, scheduling an individual meeting, inviting them to join your LinkedIn network, etc. One or two good experiences following your networking efforts will make the next event less daunting. Who knows? You might even enjoy yourself!
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