Are you a business owner who just naturally loves to network with others? Is it easy and fun for you to speak in public, meet new people, and enjoy new experiences? If that describes you, then that innate strength has helped you more than you might realize. Because it’s not that easy for everyone!
In fact, Jerry Seinfeld did a comedy skit about the fear of public speaking where he noted that it’s the #1 fear for Americans – with fear of DEATH coming in second!
So let me confirm – yes, it’s a real thing, that fear of networking! If you’re someone who finds it very hard to have networking conversations and you shrink away from making your 10-minute presentation, you will need to stretch out of your comfort zone bigtime in order to become great at networking for business success. The great thing to know is that you can learn and grow your skills in this area. While you may have to push yourself a lot at first, you can learn to love meeting people and speaking in public!
I’m a person who loves talking in any group, and I sail along easily in business networking. When I started Gold Star Referral Clubs, an early club meeting experience helped me understand that not everyone felt this way.
In 2007, we had a real estate inspection company join our local group; their representative was Erynne. She came to the meetings and never said a word, shyly sitting apart from others. When it was her turn to introduce herself and talk about her business, she stood up and apologized for her fear – and then spoke about 15 seconds! When she sat down, her eyes were teary and she had to take huge breaths to calm herself. I saw that Erynne would have some work ahead of her to get comfortable sharing about her business.
Realizing how paralyzing business networking could be for Erynne and others like her, I put some thought into creating a few simple tips to help those a bit introverted among us battle their fears, push through their anxiety, and grow their skills to promote their businesses until it comes naturally to them.
Beth’s Basic Tips to Grow Your Conversational and Presenting Skills
1) Start with arriving early and greeting others as they come in.
a. Look for a smiling, kind face and walk up to that person with your hand out to shake theirs. Introduce yourself with something like, “Hi, I’m John Wilson, with Wilson Plumbing. What’s your name?”
b. Nod when they say their name, and mention you’re glad to be at the meeting. If the other person responds to that, or begins a conversation, just follow their lead. See where it goes!
c. If they don’t get a conversation going (maybe this is hard for them, too!) you can use a conversation-starter question to head off that awkward moment. Something like:
“So – what got you into the _____ business?”
“What kinds of trends are you seeing in your industry?”
“Besides business networking, what kind of marketing is working for you right now? Got any great tips?”
AND my two favorite conversation-starter questions:
“What kind of person or business is a great referral for you right now?
"And if I know someone like that or meet them, what are the most important things I should point out about you and your product or service?”
d. Whenever the conversation feels done, just say something like, “Well, I’m sure glad to meet you – I'll connect with you again soon so we can talk more.” – and move on to the next friendly-looking person. Try not to sit down until you have to.
e. All of these pre-meeting connections help to calm your anxieties and they form the foundation of a growing comfort level with talking to others and promoting your business through public speaking.
2) Set a goal of making just one good connection at each meeting/event. If you can have any sort of meaningful conversation with one person, whether in the early, pre-meeting time, during or after the meeting, that’s you growing your skills! Now you have a name, a face, a little info about their business, and you’ve got a start on making a new friend – and potential business referral source, too. And you can work to send referrals to them!
a. Follow up with a little note (an email or a handwritten card sent snail mail, using the address on their business card) when you get back to your office – that helps them remember you! Set up a time to meet again over a quick cup of coffee.
3) Next time, look for that familiar face and then you’ll have that connection to help you get through the pre-meeting moments, as well as repeating the process to meet another new person. Once you’re good at this, set your goal higher. Your confidence level will grow!
Guess what happened with Erynne? Within a month, she was doing a full presentation with smiles – and eventually she became the group's Official Greeter!
I promise you – it will get easier! And as it does, it will become fun and you’ll get to know many new colleagues. You’ll get better and better at giving them good referrals and they’ll pass referrals to you, too. I’ve watched many business owners grow their conversational and speaking skills, and when they do, Success Follows!