Isn’t it funny how one day you can wake up and realise you have totally changed some of your likes or dislikes without even realising? This happened me last week when I was asked what the favourite parts of my job are and I was surprised to hear myself gush about how much I Ioved more than anything going to networking events, meeting new like-minded business owners and attending inspirational events. It wasn’t until I saw my friend wince and say she couldn’t think of anything worse that I realised I would have had the exact same reaction just a year or two ago!
I look back and can’t help but laugh at what an Awkward Alan I was going to these events. I would book a ticket to a business networking breakfast and then feel physically sick for the entire morning dreading walking into a room full of strangers. If I ever arrived early, I would go for a walk up and down the street outside for a few blocks or hide in the bathroom so I could arrive right on time for the speaker to start and not have to spend one second telling awkward dad jokes to some poor stranger to try and break the ice.
With public speaking appearing as one of the top fears in most people (even over death!), I think it is easy to see why so many people have the same fear of networking. You have to walk into a room of people you don’t know and open yourself up to the possibility of being judged and/or criticised. But I am living proof that it can be done, even if you are breaking out in a cold sweat just thinking about doing it right now. It actually gets easier and even enjoyable (I promise!) So how the hell did I go from being the most socially awkward weirdo in the room to not only embracing networking, but loving it?! Here are my top tips for networking for the socially awkward!
#1 Find your prey!
Chances are, you are not the only person to go to this event by themselves. Do a quick scan of the room, find a fellow AA (Awkward Alan) and pounce! Trust me, they will be delighted you struck up conversation as you can guarantee they are feeling just as uncomfortable as you!
#2 Ask a question
Don’t see anyone else on their own? Don’t panic! It can be very daunting to walk up to a group of people and boldly interrupt to introduce yourself. Instead, ask a question! ‘Do you know if we need to register?’, ‘Do you know what time the event is starting?’ once you get your answer, it will be SO much easier to just continue the convo!
#3 Use the 5 second rule for networking
I recently listened to a podcast that featured Mel Robbins and her 5 second rule. It is definitely worth listening to the whole thing as there are some golden nuggets in there. She has some great tips for dealing with stress and anxiety that would be beneficial to any entrepreneur. Her 5 second rule in a nutshell is that you count backwards from 5 before doing something you don’t want to do and then just do it! Mel believes that If you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill the idea.
#4 You are not naked!
When you have to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation, all of your senses are heightened. You become incredibly self-aware and feel like the eyes of the entire world are on you and judging you. But guess what? They are not and most people aren’t even taking any notice of you at all so try to relax! Most people are feeling just as self-aware and are not paying much attention to whats happening around them. So remember you are not naked or exposed and try to have some fun!
#5 Practice really does make perfect
When I first started putting myself out there for my business, I felt so uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone. But I have since realised, that is the only way to be! How can you possibly grow if you stay safe and don’t try things that scare you? I am now delighted any time I am shit scared because it probably means I am on track with where I want to go. The more times you put yourself in uncomfortable situations, the less they feel uncomfortable. You come to realise that it doesn’t really matter and it’s only your ego that is feeling uncomfortable. So keep doing things that scare you and I promise, you will realise there is nothing to be scared about in the first place.
The longer I have been in business and keep meeting business owners, the more I have come to realise that nobody has their shit together, especially the people that you think do! Everyone is in the exact same boat as you and nobody becomes successful without working hard and doing things that make them uncomfortable. I wish I had realised this sooner and not wasted so much time worrying about what anyone else thinks! So hopefully you can see from this reformed Awkward Alan, that you can do it too!