How do you start a conversation with a stranger at a conference? I have no idea what to say.
You’re not alone. At best, it feels awkward to walk up to a stranger and strike up a conversation. And, many people experience social anxiety to some degree in this kind of networking situation. However, it is worth it to push through those feelings and develop your social engagement skills. Researchers who have studied salespeople have found that social anxiety is negatively associated with sales performance (Lussier et al., 2021). So, if you don’t overcome your hesitation, it may negatively affect your career.
Networking is the Best Marketing
Everyone knows that networking is the best way to find a job. It is less well known that networking is the best marketing channel for a small business. Unlike advertising, networking can be ramped up immediately – without writing, graphic design, or vendor onboarding – you can start talking to people about your business today. Also, the Customer Acquisition Cost for marketing is low, since all it really requires is your time. Finally, networking is an efficient form of marketing. The sales conversion rate of networking conversations is high because people are more likely to trust you if they have been referred to you by someone they know.
What if I just avoid conferences?
It is not a great plan to avoid conferences and other events that require social engagement. Socializing is a skill that you can learn and improve with practice, and it is worth it to build that capability. The more people you know, the more likely you are to meet the people who can help you get where you want to go. If you avoid engaging, then you miss valuable opportunities.
Can I network online?
Yen et al. (2012) researched college students in real-life situations and concluded that social anxiety was lower when the students were interacting online than when they were interacting offline. The researchers expressed some optimism that the online modality may offer some solutions for people who are inhibited by social anxiety. It is absolutely possible to network online. Sign up for an online webinar, and then ask a question during the Q&A period at the end. Write a follow-up note to the presenter, asking to schedule a time to talk via a webinar tool like Zoom. If you are more comfortable online, start there.
If networking is outside your comfort zone, then you are going to need to push yourself to build the skill. When you are still in the period where you feel uncomfortable, just remember that everyone else is nervous, too. By opening the conversation, you may be doing a good deed.
Related Blog Posts
Zenagos Expert Networking Tip: How to Make an Ask
Zenagos Expert Finance Tip: How to Calculate Your Customer Acquisition Cost
Steph Graham: Career and Interview Coaching for the Modern Professional