So how can you avoid feeling like the unpopular kid at the school disco when you go networking? Ivor Smith, of professional presenters and magicians Fifth Dimension, shares his tips to make your networking experience an enjoyable and productive one.
There is no doubt that the thought of having to speak to others you don't know in an unfamiliar situation can be a daunting prospect. What will you say? Will anyone speak to you? Some people are born networkers, but don't panic if you don't include yourself in that category. By simply carrying out some basic preparation before you attend the event, you can ensure you end up with a productive, and satisfying, outcome from the occasion.
If you are worried about the initial stages spent trying to strike up conversation, just remember - at a networking event, people expect to be approached by people that they don't know - everyone is there because they want to network. Take your time and look around the room. Introduce yourself to anyone that is standing alone - they are probably in the same boat as you!
If everyone is engaged in conversation, don't worry. Looking at the body language of the people talking will give you a good indication of whether or not it would be appropriate to approach them. People directly facing each other are more likely to be involved in an important conversation than those looking out across the room standing in an 'open' manner. The latter are therefore the ideal choice.
Now you are thinking about introducing yourself, in all probability you'll start to worry about what might be the next awkward moment. If you have trouble remembering names, chances are most others you meet at these events will too. Remember, a confident approach will make you much more memorable too, so not only will you remember their name; they are much more likely to remember yours.
Avoid any guesswork or potential embarrassment when it comes to introductions and names.
If you are terrible with names, don't fret. A little thought beforehand can help you focus. Firstly, and most importantly, don't let the issue play on your mind. Tell yourself beforehand that you can easily remember people's names - being in the right frame of mind will boost your confidence enormously.
When introduced to someone, smile and make eye contact as soon as they say their name, then repeat it back to them - a hugely effective way of making it stick in your mind. All you need to do is say is something like 'pleased to meet you [name]'.
Make sure you actually look at the facial features of the person you are introduced to. Try to make a memorable connection between the name and the face. The more off the wall the connection is, the easier the name will be to recall in future.
Once you get past the introductions stage, you may well dread committing another social faux pas - saying the wrong thing. When you get nervous, it's all too easy just to talk first and think second. That's why often the best thing you can do at a networking event is listen. Great networkers have this skill down to a fine art. They don't talk at others, but instead guide the conversation by asking open-ended questions.
This is where preparation can play another vital role. Networking isn't just a chance to make direct contact with those you meet either, but also indirectly with their colleagues and acquaintances too. If you are memorable, you are much more likely to have your details passed on as a referral - an invaluable source of potential business contacts.
Contact the organisers of the event beforehand to find out who will be attending - even if you can't get specific names, you should be able to establish which companies will be represented. Try and take a look at their website, and think about topics that you could potentially discuss that would be relevant to their circumstances, whether it's industry developments, changes in legislation, or a related news story.
You don't have to pretend to be an expert in the subject, but being able to demonstrate an interest will show you are knowledgeable and informed, and mark you out as a potentially great contact to have.
Knowing you are well prepared beforehand is a great way to help you relax and put you at ease, which will in turn boost your confidence and your chances of making that vital good first impression. People are always interested in people who are interested in them.
After a few events, you will soon learn how to move around a room and introduce yourself to new people, and by combining preparation with your growing experience. Networking is about being genuine and authentic, building trust and relationships, and seeing how you can help others. Just remember to keep an eye out for those lonely newcomers and make the effort to introduce yourself - you were like them once.