One of the best ways to find new clients is to attend networking events in your local area. Sounds easy enough, right? You find a Meetup.com event, you sign up, you attend. No big deal. What if you are an introvert who struggles in social settings, especially when you don’t know a soul? For me, the anticipation of stepping into a room with lots of vivacious, chatty people makes my chest feel tight, makes my awkward meter feels like it’s going to go through the roof, and for some crazy reason I feel like cotton-mouth sets in and that I’m going to trip all over my tongue. So why do I put myself through this?
Let me tell you why.
One, the obvious. The more eyeballs I can get in front of and the more people I can connect with, the better chance I have of finding that person who is interested in what I have to offer. Facebook is great, reaching out to people online is a viable option, but connecting with someone face to face is a great start to developing a relationship with somebody. You can get a much better feel as to whether or not you “click” with this person – and whether or not it’s someone you’d like to get to know better , even if they don’t become one of your customers. They may never become a client, but they may become a friend.
Another reason – these people get “it”. They understand all about this crazy thing we do when we quit a reliable job and a steady income. Instead of looking at you with a raised eyebrow, they can be your biggest cheerleaders. Verbal high fives and encouraging comments flow freely in these meetings. It’s like you’ve just discovered your new tribe, that until now, hadn’t realized was out there. In my brief experience of attending networking meetings, people are universally supportive of new entrepreneurs who have made the leap from full-time employment to becoming our own bosses.
So back to my tight chest, cotton-mouth and awkward meter… how do I get around that?
So far my drive to these events have been a minimum of 20 minutes – that car drive is my own private little locker room where I give myself my own pep talk. I turn the radio off, I practice my elevator pitch, I repeat affirmations, whatever it takes to get myself in a more self-confident frame of mind. For some this comes naturally, and for others, like me – it requires some effort but self-confidence can be learned!
Another thing I have found is when I get there a bit early, only a few people have arrived. I feel a little less overwhelmed when the group is small and the atmosphere is calmer and less noisy. I can settle in a little better, and get over those initial butterflies (and they do dissipate, I promise!) than when I show up late and arrive to a deafening chattiness level.
Something else that has really helped is inevitably, there is always somebody who is standing alone, and often it’s somebody who is there for the first time. I muster the courage to approach that person first. More often than not, they are new and I think they’re relieved that somebody else made the first move. When I focus on others, it helps me to forget about my own self-consciousness.
As far as the cotton-mouth problem, I solved that after my first couple of events by making sure I ALWAYS have my water bottle with me. I’m sure it’s just nerves, but by bringing my own drink, it’s one less thing I have to worry about. And when I do give my elevator pitch, I’ve learned if I slow down just a little, I’m less likely to trip over my words. I try to remember that if I do stumble, my own impression of my flub is magnified x 100 compared to the people who are listening. I promise you they are not sitting there criticizing every verbal morsel that leaves your lips. I know this because a girl I was sitting next to lamented on how badly she did and I honestly thought she did fine. I didn’t pick up on any of the things she was so worried about. If nothing else, this helped me to see that we can over-inflate our shortcomings in our minds.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of In-Person Networking for Beginners… especially for Introverts!