An industry conference provides an excellent opportunity to meet and get to know others working in your field.
The connections you make can transform your future prospects. However, networking can be tough. Nerves can strike even the most seasoned conference attendee, and lead to feeling anything from embarrassment to defensiveness. Social anxiety is common, but it can be managed.
Here are a few tips on how to give yourself the best chance of overcoming your networking nerves.
Before you walk out the door make a list of people you’d like to meet, topics you’d like to discuss and which speakers you’re most interested in hearing and seeing. Prior research allows you to feel more confident and successfully navigate your environment more efficiently.
If you’re not at ease with thinking on the fly, rehearse your introduction and prepare answers to questions you expect people may ask. Think about the conversations you want to have, including what message you want to convey.
Connect in Advance
There is a strong chance you are already familiar with some attendees through social media. Use this opportunity to meet in person. You may make a valuable contact with someone who already supports you.
Don’t Feel Alone
If a meet-and-greet event makes you jittery, rest assured you are not alone. Conference anxiety is incredibly common. Many of your fellow attendees will be fighting the same feelings and struggling the same concerns.
Just remember: Most of the conference attendees are just like you – looking for someone to genuinely connect and have a fruitful conversation.
Be the First to Approach Someone
Your nerves will most likely be greatest on the first day of the conference. Get into the swing of things and build your self esteem by approaching and engaging with someone who is standing alone. You may have a harder time breaking free when you see someone else you want to meet, but exit the conversation politely. Say, “It was nice talking with you. Please excuse me, I am going to continue to mingle.” Extend your hand for a handshake and continue networking.
Break the Ice
Knowing something about the person you are approaching can help you overcome your fear and set you apart from the rest of the crowd.
Start off your conversation with something familiar like, “I read your recent article in Huffington Post and I’d love to hear more about [specific point]. How does your [specific concept] relate to [specific circumstance]?” By focusing on the other person you are sending the message you are truly engaged.
Don’t Rush to Respond
Blurting out the first thing that comes into your mind may be fine in the company of your close friends, but in a networking situation it pays to think before you speak. You’ll make a better impression if you listen carefully and pause to consider your answer.
Pay Attention to Your Appearance
We are all aware that first impressions are made within seconds.
Worrying about your appearance should not be an additional element of anxiety. The expected dress code at each conference varies and it’s in your best interest to find out what is expected. Check out photographs of last year’s conference – or similar conferences – for clues. Never be afraid to call the event organizer and ask for specific details.
In most cases, you can’t go wrong with a casual blazer and slacks (men) or a conservative dress or suit (women).
While feeling comfortable in an uncomfortable situation is tricky, with proper planning, it’s not impossible.
You may also like Business Etiquette: Making a Strong Introduction. For more of Diane’s etiquette tips read her posts on Inc., subscribe to her articles on The Huffington Post, “like” The Protocol School of Texas on Facebook, and follow her on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter. Order Diane’s forthcoming book, Modern Etiquette for a Better Life here.