Overcoming Your Networking Phobia

In the world of business, both small and large, networking is the bread and butter of business growth. But let’s be honest, you either love networking or you hate it. Even if you’re the most outgoing or the most experienced, it can be intimidating to walk into a room of strangers and share your elevator pitch about what you do.

As with most things, the best ways to quell your anxieties are preparation and practice.

We know how hard it can be to put yourself out there if you’re not used to doing so. That’s why we’ve compiled a short list of top tips to help you feel confident in a networking setting!

  1. Join an island.

We all know the feeling of walking into a crowd where everyone is already chatting away, and we feel like we have no place. In an article from the Harvard Business Review, they speak with Marissa King, a professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, who makes an incredibly helpful observation. She says, “What we know from research is that people don’t form walls or oceans. They actually tend to clump together in small groups. So, really, it’s not an ocean of people, it’s only little islands.”

She moves on to share a tactic she’s learned over the years. When you begin to view the crowd simply as little islands, it feels much more manageable to approach them and join the conversation. Specifically, she suggests looking for a group of odd numbers. “If there’s an odd number of people, there’s likely someone who isn’t really a part of the conversation, and they are likely looking for a conversational partner.” It’s a very simple strategy really, but it can help guide you if you are overwhelmed by the crowd.

  1. Yes, business cards are important.

In today’s digital-first society, some will tell you that a business card is outdated and useless. But we wouldn’t be so sure. We consume so much content across our digital platforms that business cards serve as a physical reminder of the connection you made.

To avoid business card mix ups or an awkward scramble searching for yours, designate one place for your business card (a pant or purse pocket) and another place for other people’s business cards.

Remember, even if the card you got from that stellar conversation does end up lost/washed/crumpled, you can reach out to the Chamber and we can find the contact information to keep you connected.

  1. You don’t have to “fake it ‘til you make it.”

Those who tend to be more introverted might have an especially hard time quelling their social anxieties when it comes to networking. It’s easy to think everyone needs to be outgoing to make connections.

“You do not have to fake being an extrovert to network well.” – Vanessa Van Edwards, Science of People

If large gatherings heighten your anxiety and weaken your conversations, then opt for smaller scale events, meetings over coffee or lunch, or reaching out online as your first step. Networking isn’t about meeting everyone at once – it’s about building strong relationships that can grow and be mutually beneficial over time.

Targeting smaller events like Meet & Eat, workshops, joining a committee, or connecting online can take the pressure off and allow you to shine in the environment best suited to you.

  1. Know your goals.

While we want you to get to know everyone in our member community, that will come with time. However, you joined the Chamber with a purpose – to grow your business, your skills, or both.

You may want to start by creating a list of who specifically you want to meet. For example, let’s say your business would benefit from partnering with non-profits. Your next step could be to find out who the representatives are from those target organizations and aim to strike up a conversation with them at the next event.

Having goals for who you want to connect with will make your networking much more focused and streamlined. It allows for both people to connect more deeply and is more likely to create a strong partnership.

  1. Perfect your elevator pitch.

If you haven’t heard of an elevator pitch, it’s a short summary of who you are and what you do. It gets its name from the idea that if you were stuck in an elevator with someone who could make your career dreams come true, you have the length of the elevator ride to convince that person why they should invest their time in you.

Your goal with your elevator pitch is to spark a longer conversation or a meeting with someone who can (potentially) help you professionally.

So, if you have approximately 30 seconds to impress, does your pitch hit the mark?

The Mignone Center for Career Success at Harvard University shares 5 elements that make up a strong elevator pitch:

    1. Who Are You? Of course, you should start by sharing your name and a “hook” that gives the person you’re talking to an opening to ask you questions.
    2. What Do You Do? Next, tell them what you and your organization do. How do you help people?
    3. What’s Unique About You? What do you specialize in? What are your strengths? You can discuss the organization’s accomplishments and highlights, or your own, depending on your goal.
    4. What’s Your Ask? You should wrap up your conversation with a call to action. What’s your ask? Are you looking for a mentor? A new career opportunity? A donor for your non-profit? Mention what you hope will happen next, whether that’s a follow-up email, a meeting, or further conversation. 
  1. Be sure to follow up.

When you make a connection at Good Morning Cherokee or Business After Hours, be sure to engage them afterwards and keep the conversation going. Without a follow-up, these exceptional conversations can fall stale. If you have their business card, send a follow-up email to remind them of what you offer and how you can potentially work together. If you lost their card, remember you can call the Chamber for help!

  1. Lastly, utilize Chamber staff.

The Cherokee County Chamber has a dedicated staff who is eager to help you make connections that will benefit you and your organization. It is our job to ensure an engaged membership and we’re happy to make introductions and recommendations. The Chamber is a resource, so don’t forget to use it!

Over time, as you attend more and more in-person networking events, you’ll realize that a cold call or cold outreach feels a little warmer thanks to your shared connections through the Cherokee County Chamber.


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