Of all the public speaking opportunities available to us, the one that many people feel most uncomfortable with is networking.

This is especially true after having spent so much time in virtual lockdown due to the pandemic.

We’re out of the practice of actually meeting people face to face in person.

This discomfort can occur at official networking events, in casual conversations that happen during breaks at conferences and meetings, and even in social conversations.

Presentations and speeches are prepared in advance. Sales calls are often scripted; but networking requires a specific strategy, plus seat-of-the-pants flexibility and a go-with-the-flow mentality to be successful.

How can you share what you do in a way that engages people rather than turns them off?

When is the right time to tell people what you do, and when is the right time to button your lip?

Here are 3 key mindsets that can serve as guidelines for more successful networking results:

1. Set the right intentions before you arrive. This is absolutely crucial to both your comfort and your success!

Unfortunately many people have the notion that the purpose of networking is to sell people your product, service, or opportunity. Focusing mainly on this is a guaranteed recipe for failure.

Not only will you feel uncomfortably pushy, but you will turn potential customers and referral partners off right out of the box by coming across as only interested in your own sales success.

The truth is that networking is a long game and requires patience (something that seems to be in short supply these days–must be a supply chain issue. LOL).

Instead, set the intention to build relationships with the people whom you meet.

And to counter our usual human tendency to seek out and speak with people we already know, set a goal of chatting with at least 2 or 3 new people you haven’t connected with before..

2. Ask and listen, then ask and listen again, before sharing what you do.

Always begin a conversation by asking the other people what they do. It will help to put them at ease (especially if they’re feeling nervous too).

Unless the person is a motor mouth who won’t shut up, letting the other person speak first is also likely to create a willingness to listen to you when it’s your turn to speak.

This is one of Stephen R. Covey’s 7 rules for highly effective people: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

When someone asks you what you do, instead of jumping right into your standard elevator pitch (which often ends up sounding suspiciously like a robo call), ask a question that specifically targets the pain points and problems that you help people to solve in your work.

For example, because one of the major things I do is to help people overcome their fear of public speaking, I might ask this question:

Have you ever been in a situation where you really wanted to say something effectively, but either you weren’t sure what to say, or how to say it, or were afraid to say it?

If someone answers with a yes, then, depending on the situation, I might follow up with one of the following questions:

  • Is this something that’s been a challenge for you for a long time?
  • It this affecting your ability to achieve your goals in your business and personal life?

If the person with whom you are speaking has the problem that you help to solve, you can then mention that, if they are open to it, you might be able to help with that problem.

If you’re a coach, you might offer a free strategy session where you can share some tips and techniques to help them with their challenges.

Ideally, if the person is open to a conversation with you, you can suggest taking out your phones and setting an appointment right then and there.

3. The fortune is in getting the appointment and then following through.

It is so much easier and more efficient to follow up with someone with whom you have already made an appointment.

However if that isn’t the case, be sure to follow up with a phone call and chat.

Added touches include sending a note indicating that you enjoyed meeting this person and look forward to connecting with him or her soon.

A hand-written note sent through the mail is particularly powerful, if you have that person’s address. (Not always the case on business cards these days.)

Inviting that person to connect on LinkedIn is another way to build a stronger relationship with someone whom you have just met.

Commenting on posts and endorsing skills on LinkedIn is another way to stay top of mind with the people you meet.

Remember to publish any articles you write on LinkedIn, as all the people with whom you are connected on the first level will receive a notice that you have posted an article on LinkedIn.

Repurposing your content this way is an excellent way to establish yourself as an expert in your field, and to continually remind your first degree connections of who you are and how you serve people.

And another thing to remember: Most of the folks you meet at networking events are just as out of practice as you are in this skill; so cut yourself some slack.

Decide that you’re just going to go out and enjoy meeting some new friends.