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Overcoming Anxiety in Networking
Career experts agree that networking is critical to getting ahead. If you are naturally outgoing and at ease with strangers, networking is probably not hard for you. But what if you are naturally introverted?
NBC News has seven suggestions for feeling less anxious at a networking event:
Be prepared. Know what you want to accomplish at the event, and set specific goals. For example, don’t just say, "I want to meet a lot of people." Say, "I want to meet and talk to 10 people," or "I want to make a pitch to five people."
Focus on questions – and answers. Think about what you expect people might ask you about your job or your company or your idea or product. Then prepare your answers to those questions, and practice those answers until you feel comfortable. It could help to practice in front of a mirror. You also can think about questions you might want to ask people you meet, so that you can draw them into a conversation.
Practice mindfulness. Increasingly, experts believe that mindfulness and meditation can help relieve anxiety. Before the event, learn to be quiet and focus on your breathing. Start with a few minutes, and try to work up to 10. It’s OK if your mind wanders; just bring it back to a focus on breathing. Spend a few minutes on that mindfulness when you arrive at the event, perhaps before you leave your car. If anxiety strikes during the event, you might be able to excuse yourself for a few minutes and use breathing techniques to calm yourself.
Be genuine. The best way to engage people is to compliment them or talk about their work. But you have to mean it, or you come off looking phony. Think about the people you might meet at the event. Are there people whose work you admire? Think of a way to mention that. Or, if you don’t know about someone ahead of time, ask questions – and listen to the answers.
Don’t use your phone or a cocktail as a crutch. Checking your phone all the time makes it look like you are not interested in the event – or in the other people there. And even if the event includes alcohol, don’t do more than sip.
Deal with negative thoughts immediately. For example, if before the event you are worried that people will not like you or will think you are untalented, write those thoughts down right away. Then tell yourself all the reasons that those concerns are unwarranted.
Use your anxiety to help you. Use it to focus your planning and problem-solving before the event. And afterward, think about which coping mechanisms were most successful in helping you feel more comfortable.