If you don’t enjoy networking, you’re not alone! 40% of people on a recent LinkedIn poll said they do not enjoy networking, even though 90% recognized it as “critical”!
As a veterinary professional, you might also recognize how critical networking is to your success, especially as we are in a small field. Most of the people we interview for our monthly career Q and As have leveraged their connections to land their jobs, or make career transitions, or even create jobs where there were none! (Check out the replays here)
Networking is critical as well if you’re a business owner, side hustle owner, or if you’re looking to break into speaking, consulting, or freelancing of any kind. And how many people have been hired following a great conversation at an event?
So, we’ve established that networking is important… how can you make it less cringey and anxiety-inducing?
Here’s our top tips to get comfortable with networking:
When I learned how to become better at public speaking, I learned that it was always going to feel a little awkward for me, no matter how many stages I crossed or how many events I facilitated. Now I know that feeling of anxiety and how it will play out, and how I’ve survived it and thrived despite it. Let’s consider that those feelings of interacting in unknown situations are normal, but just like learning a new veterinary procedure, we get less nervous with time, and we learn to cope with them. I take some deep breaths if I’m feeling a bit keyed up, and assume a power pose (cheesy but it works).
2. Have a prop
I watched my young children do this as they learned to enter new situations. They found it easier when they brought something with them as a conversation starter. For little kids, it’s a stuffy to talk about, or an interesting rock. As adults, it can be a drink (“Have you tried the signature cocktail at the event?”), or even a statement piece of clothing that someone may comment on. Even having a business card can be helpful after starting the conversation.
3. Get some small talk questions prepped
I remember back in the stone age when I started dating, and you had to call on a landline. You had to speak to the boy’s parents and then make conversation awkwardly on the phone. My uber organized friend gave me a good tip: have a little cheat sheet of “nice parent questions” and “questions for the boy you are dating” questions banked to whip out should things get dull. Luckily, there was no video calling, so you could definitely flip through your notebook to consult questions. I’m not even ashamed to admit I’ve used this tip. “So what was your favorite lecture today?” at a conference, or “tell me about your family,” or “what’s new in your area? What are you excited about?” Have a couple on hand, or consult when you take a bathroom break.
4. Be curious, not desperate
I always advise job seekers to simply approach people with curiosity when they network, as opposed to viewing the interaction as a transactional one where the end result is finding out if the person has a job you can apply to. I prefer to advise that we approach with open ended questions, like a dermatology or behaviour consult- “Tell me about how you got to your current position?” “What do you like the best about your role?” Most people will happily answer questions about themselves, especially if you seem interested.
5. Lend value
If you have an idea or thing you think they might benefit from, let them know. Maybe a book, movie, process etc. “You know, you mentioned that you love Brené Brown as an author. I wonder, have you read any …”
6. Segue into topics where appropriate
If you have a service or idea that you could offer or help solve for the person, it’s totally great to either gently discuss it at the time, or grab their card to follow up later. “So neat that you’re thinking about bringing in speakers to your practice. I love speaking. What topics are you thinking of this year?” Or “Wow, that sounds really cool; love to see people thinking like you are. Can I grab your card? I’d love to stay in touch.” Then follow up with a nice email offering a further chat and some of your ideas or services if they are interested.
Next conference or networking event, please make great use of your time, and remember that almost everyone there is as awkward feeling as you!
If you still feel awkward or unsure about networking, or leveraging yourself into a new area, this is 100% an area coaching is helpful. Check out our coaching services here or drop us a line.
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