Networking: everything to gain and nothing to fear.

But fear can prevent sales producers, financial advisors, brokers, realtors and job seekers from going to the right places, meeting people, and saying the right things.

Fear also can prevent you from making key connections, sales and job leads.

Here are some common anxieties that can get in your way:

  • Fear of saying the wrong thing.
  • Fear of forgetting a name.
  • Fear of not knowing what to say or what not to say.
  • Fear of looking stupid.
  • Fear of not knowing an answer, or not knowing the right question.
  • Fear of not knowing the right person to talk to.

There also are conversational fears such as not knowing how to introduce yourself, how to properly interrupt a conversation, how to break away from a conversation, how to ask for a business card, or how to establish a follow-up.  

There is so much to overcome!

LinkedIn and other forms of social media and selling have made talking to strangers much easier. That’s the good news. The bad news? Every now and then, we still need to talk to real, live people standing right in front of us.

Here are some ways to overcome your fears when speaking with people.

1. Know your purpose.

Are you looking to write more business? If so, what kind of business? What industry, profession, market segment, niche or geography? Are there any company names on your wish list? Be specific about what you want so you’ll do a better job thinking about it, talking about it, and acting upon it. Having a clear cut purpose will also help you feel more confident about delivering your message.

2. Be assertive when introducing yourself.

By assertive, I don’t mean aggressive, as in aggressively interrupting conversations by introducing yourself. By assertive, I mean be direct about taking the initiative to walk up to a total stranger (I’m assuming you’re at a business event) and saying, “Hello, my name is … What have you been up to the last couple of weeks?” (That is one of my favorite “openers.”)

Don’t wait for others to come to you. You make quite the impression being the one to break the ice and set the tone. Besides, you’ll get good at it and feel great about yourself.

3. Ask great questions.

Have a series of conversational questions top of mind that you genuinely want to ask of others. Very often, these are the same types of questions that you might like to be asked.

Keep your questions topical, open-ended and interesting. Also,avoid talking about the weather, unless there is a heat wave in January or a snow storm in July. Here are some examples of questions that can get people talking:

  • What have you been up to the last couple of weeks?
  • What type of work do you do?
  • How long have you been at it?
  • Do you like what you do? Why?
  • What is the most interesting part of your work?
  • What do you hate about your work? Anything you can do about it?
  • What is your current focus?
  • What are your goals for the year?
  • What does a perfect client look like for you? Why?
  • Who are your best referral sources?
  • Who are you looking to meet here?
  • How can I support you as we get to know one another better?

4. Genuinely listen and try to help.

When you ask great questions, listen closely to the answers … Truly listen. Don’t just start thinking about what you’re going to say next. Ask follow-up questions to clarify and truly understand.

Listening is hard work but well worth the effort. If you’re truly interested, there should be no effort at all. Restate what needs to be restated and reflect on what’s interesting. During the exchange, summarize for greater clarity, and ask questions to insure understanding or to get the specifics. The more you listen to others, the more they tend to listen to you.

5. Find common ground.

In some of my networking talks, I do an exercise with the group called “Human Bingo.” Basically, there are a series of criteria and you have to walk around the room to meet people and see who has a certain thing in common with you.

Have you been on an airplane this year? What is your zodiac sign? What is your favorite drink? And so on. It’s fun to find things you have in common with others, as it takes the conversation to another level.

Think about a time when you met someone who shared your favorite football team or went to the same school. Your questions from earlier can help open up some areas where you share common ground and have fun things to talk about.

6. Talk about you.

Maybe don’t talk about yourself incessantly. It might be fun for you, but it is definitely not fun for your audience. Only talk about yourself when asked, then be prepared to share details about your profession, areas of expertise, the marketplaces you work in, and those you’re looking to meet to make it all happen.

It’s best not to go into great detail about how you do what you do. Remember, this is not a sales presentation. Simply talk about the value of your work and who benefits most. If those that you meet ask specific questions, great! Just keep the discussion about your work at a high level so you don’t come across as self-promotional or in some cases — boring.

7. Recap and establish the next steps, if any.

After about 5 or 10 minutes, depending on your connection, simply recap the discussion so you’re both on the same page, then review possible next steps. Those next steps might be:

  • Setting up a call
  • Setting up a face to face meeting
  • Providing additional information
  • Arranging an introduction
  • Going your separate ways

There is really no other outcome. But going into “recap mode” is a nice way of transitioning toward the tail end of the conversation and establishing how you might develop the relationship.

8. Be a connector.

When meeting many people at once, try to keep track of who you’ve met and whether they need to be introduced to others at the meeting or event. What a great way to establish credibility, stay active, and pay it forward!

I was at an event and someone that I met kept introducing me to everyone he met. It seemed he got a kick out of introducing me to others, and he was fun to be around because of it.

If you can spend your time being a connector, you’ll meet a lot of great people yourself and won’t have time to worry about your fears.

Practice some of these tips at your next cocktail party or networking mixer. You might just help someone else you meet overcome their fears.

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