I can sympathise; being in a roomful of complete strangers is at best, unsettling; at worst positively terrifying, and no matter how many books you read on the subject or networking experts you consult for advice, it never really gets any easier.
But it did get me thinking about online networking through social media sites like Twitter and LinkedIn, and how In Real Life (IRL) networking throws everyone into a spin, while doing the same thing - connecting, chatting and exchanging business information with total strangers - online is such a breeze?
With IRL you are exposed. Your physical presence creates a first impression, and if it’s a cold turkey event, with no familiar faces to put you at ease, it may not be the impression you were hoping to make. So why not leverage the effortlessness of social media networking to make the IRL business networking less daunting and much more enjoyable - and productive.
Earlier this year at the Entrepreneur Country ‘Turbo Charge Your Business’ Forum, Linda Cheung, CEO of Cube Social, provided a brilliant social event analogy of Twitter as a virtual cocktail party, and FaceBook as the virtual house party, describing the etiquette and ‘dress code’ that should be observed for each.
When it comes to IRL business networking, you can use Twitter and Facebook to create ‘pre-event gatherings’ weeks ahead of the real thing.
Contact the event organisers or visit the website to find out who will be attending. Depending on the size of the event there’s a reasonable chance that some of the delegates will already be social media contacts, possibly people you’ve never met in person before, so message them, have a chat about the event and arrange to meet there.
If they aren’t already among your social media contacts, check out the websites of business delegates who will be attending, and if there are Twitter and Facebook buttons you can make an initial connection in this way. If you or your business has something in common with theirs, they may well reciprocate, and engage with you online.
Using social media to establish networking contacts in this way, you can look forward to meeting them at the event, and potentially developing long term business relationships that benefit everyone involved.