The Art of Networking: How to Break the Ice

When I moved to New York City from the United Kingdom in 2015, I had introductions to only three people in the city.   Now, I have a database of over 1,000 connections.  These are not just names on an email list: they are people I have connected with in person, and with whom I have or am building a relationship with. For me, networking has delivered a greater return on investment than any other tool in my business, and not just financially.

So what is the secret of effective networking?

In this blog series, I will share with you some tips and techniques that have worked for me and my clients. It can all be traced to the psychological and social factors that drive our personalities and relationships.

How to break the Ice

Let’s be clear: networking events are not natural.  If you feel awkward, nervous, or despondent whenever you think about attending one of these things, don’t beat yourself up.  They are not natural environments for any of us.  As human beings our survival depends on our ability to sort friend from foe.  At a networking event your survival antennae faces a room of tens or even hundreds of strangers and it’s desperately trying to identify potential threats, and potential safe zones.   In these circumstances, we typically gravitate to the safety zones:  the one person in the room we know, the people we arrived with, the food and drink.

The key to becoming a successful networker? Challenging those instincts:

  1. Stand apart, stand alone. Stay out of the safety zones.
  2. Look up, look around.  Seek eye contact and as soon as you have it, smile.
  3. Move around the room but stay relaxed. If you find yourself moving quickly , slow down; you need to send signals to the other animals that you are friend, not foe.
  4. Position yourself so that it’s easy for someone else to join your conversation. It can feel natural to form a huddle but this closes you off to the rest of the room and limits opportunities to meet new people. Use non-verbal cues like eye contact and opening your body language to invite people in, then find a moment to introduce them to the conversation.
  5. Gravitate towards people you’ve never met before. If you attend with a colleague, tell them that you aim not to see them at all during the event, but that you’d like to meet them at the end to compare who got the most business cards or who had the most interesting/funny/boring/shocking conversation.

By challenging your primal instincts and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, you can make networking events a valuable use of time and energy for your business.

The next blog in this series will concentrate on how to make those initial introductions.

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