What if You Hate Networking?

What if You Hate Networking?

How to Overcome Barriers to Networking


Not all of us are natural networkers. Many of us are shy, unhappy in crowds and would rather the earth swallow us up than have to give a one-minute speech on what we do. But then many people get over it, work through the barriers and even move on to enjoy networking. How?

I hope to delve a little deeper into networking in this post and see if I can come up with some ways to make it easier and more enjoyable for any reluctant networkers out there.  I’m not going to give you exercises like go out and talk to five strangers today to increase your self confidence. If you feel like doing this sort of thing, then great, it all helps. I’ve done this exercise myself, forcing myself to chat to taxi drivers or whomever and it can be a good way to get used to small talk.

Small Talk

Lets get this out of the way first. I hear a lot of people say they don’t like small talk and I’m no a fan either. Reaching for something to say about the weather or where you’re going on holiday seems so artificial . At the back of your head you’re also asking yourself if you both cannot come up with anything more exciting than this? However,  small talk is serving a purpose. It’s providing you both with some kind of, albeit superficial, common ground. It’s a conversation starter, nothing more. You can choose if you want to move the conversation on, or stick with the superficial common ground. It is perfectly okay to just do the latter. In fact, it’s more than okay. For those of us who are shy or lacking in confidence, it’s a good way to practise those skills. So, let’s have a look at some ways to approach small talk.


The sweaty palms and dry mouth? The blank mind? They are also signs that you are not relaxed enough. If you know you are going into a situation where you will have to make small talk, take a few moments out and take some deep breaths, breathing from the abdomen. You could even try superwoman pose, the posture Amy Cuddy describes as helping boost confidence and feelings of being in control. You may find an alcoholic drink helps, but I would suggest you use this with caution. On the plus side, I do find it leads into asking people about their favorite wine or brand of gin, which is a great little example of small talk that’s slightly different.

2. Visualise

Before your event, visualise yourself having conversations with people, smiling , moving deftly between groups or having good conversations with one person.

3. Listen

Listen more and you won’t feel the pressure of having to talk. the key here is to be genuinely interested. if you are not, people will be able to tell. Ask questions (although the challenging “why did you do that?” might be best avoided) and show a real interest. People don’t think that the talk is small if they are talking about themselves.

4. Prepare

Have a few bits of small talk or questions up your sleeve. There is a fine line here. I’ve been accosted by people who come at me with strange questions that come out of nowhere, flooring me into muteness. Your questions need to be somehow related to the event or what us drawing you together, but quirky enough to get them interested and involved.

5. Be you

If you’re feeling shy or nervous, just say it. Own it. People often understand. The advantage of this is that the old saying, “people buy people” is very true,and if you’re trying to push yourself as something you clearly aren’t then people have an in-built radar which is going to sense that something is amiss, even if they don’t understand why. And, if they feel unsure about you, they certainly won’t want to connect with you.

6. Choose Structured Events

You might also find highly structured events like industry, professional BNI, BRE and speed networking quite beneficial, as these have the advantage that everyone knows why there are there and getting on with business is the flavour of the occasion.

Here’s what one of my past clients had to say about her experiences of the business networking organisation BNI:

“I joined BNI about 8 weeks ago but already it is starting to pay dividends. My
confidence has grown and I’m more able to put across my marketing message
in a focused way by doing my 60-second presentation each week. As the
trust grows amongst the members of my chapter, business is beginning to be
passed, some of it in my direction. I’m not a morning person, so to get up
early and be at a breakfast meeting at 6.30am is quite some commitment; but
I am a great believer in word of mouth referrals – some of my best clients
have found us this way in the past. I can’t yet put figures on the level of
business I’ll do this year as a result of being a member of BNI but what I have
done so far has covered my membership fee plus a bit. The other thing I love
about BNI is that you’ve been and done your marketing and networking before
the working day begins, so it doesn’t take out a whole day that you could be
spending doing something else. I would say, however, that like with any
marketing and brand development it takes time and commitment, please don’t
join BNI or other similar organisations thinking of them as get-rich-quick
solutions, because there is no such thing. “

I find that successful networking means working within limits where you are comfortable.  As you become more relaxed and adept, you’ll find that your limits just expand, naturally. No effort, no fuss and no squeezing yourself into a persona that you really are not.

Online Networking

If you’re shy or don’t have the patience for small talk, online networking can often be a godsend. You can grow your network through social media or industry forums. You can make posts, comment on posts, make videos, take part in a discussion, start your own group or page.

The challenge comes when you are transforming what are merely names and online profiles into real connections. This is when you suggest an online chat, phone call or real life coffee meet. This sounds a lot like online dating and it’s not far apart, to be honest (I know, I’ve done both!) You could even arrange to meet your online connection at a networking event and kill two birds with one stone.

Finding the Time

Of course, networking has an opportunity cost. You have to consider if networking is worth the effort to you. If you’ve networked in the past, take a look at how much it helped your career or business. Really look at the figures, but remember that you might have met someone in January but not had them as a client until August. Did you hear about last position through a contact? Or maybe the fact that you could ask so and so what a certain organisation was like to work for helped you make your mind up about a potential job offer?

For me, I never know where networking might lead. I remember, many year’s ago, I decided that I wanted to write a book the following year. Right at the end of that year, at a networking group’s Christmas party, I found myself sat next to a publisher and pitched my book idea to her. My first book, Get Noticed, came out the next year.

Look at what’s going on for you right now in terms of workload and commitments and  work out what has to go to make room for networking Can you ditch or delegate anything? Put something on hold? Or even combine the two by joining something like Toastmasters? This will not only be a networking opportunity, but help you with your presentation skills.

Tools For Easy Networking

If you are investing your precious resources of time, energy and money into networking, then having the best tools possible to do the job will help make your networking more effective. Here’s our guide to what we consider the best networking kit.

Your elevator speech

It’s worth working on your elevator speech until you have it off pat. Amy Cuddy’s book Presence is a great read to get you comfortable with the delivery, and you can also watch her Ted Talk. There are hundreds of books and websites out there that can help you but my advice is to add something memorable in there. If you run your own business you want to mention the name of your company, but say or do something memorable that will stick in their minds. My elevator pitch goes like this:

“I’m Paula Gardner and I’m a business psychologist and executive coach working with leaders and high flying professionals. You can always spot me because I wear my brand.” I say this whilst pointing to something red that I’m wearing and laughing a little. It works. people do come up to me after as they know who I am.

Another option is to talk less about you and more about the other person:

“My name is Paula Gardner and I work with leaders and professionals who want build customer loyalty through adopting ethical leadership.”

Inevitably, someone will come up to me and ask to find out more.  Getting your elevator speech off-pat will go a long way to helping your confidence.

Escalator Speech

At some events you may be called upon to give slightly longer explanation than this. However, standing up there “humming” and “ahhing” doesn’t
do much for the reputation. Having your escalator speech handy and engraved on your mind is a clever networking move. It will cover you for all those occasions where someone says “That sounds interesting, tell me more” and you hadn’t expected it. Tips here are to concentrate on the benefits of what you do and perhaps move into a story, giving an example of how you’ve helped people, or something that you’ve overcome in your life or career. Why don’t you write your escalator speech now? Aim for three, four or five short paragraphs. People love stories and storytelling is all the rage right now.

When I talk about my mastermind groups, I inevitably talk about my clients and what they have gotten out of it. I often cite one client who got a double page in the Daily Express and another who had her article published in Psychologies magazine.

Business cards

Once the last word in networking, business cards are now increasingly seen as just another way to get your contact details across. We’ve had interactive CDs, postcards, mirrored cards, fluffy pink bunnies…what’s next?

Rules of choosing a business card:


  • Make sure that you never run out of them
  • If you are going for a template card at least choose something that fits in with your business – your company colours and your image. Keep your target market in mind. You may like young, fresh and funky but if your target market is golf courses then it might not be a grand idea
  • Stay away from those companies that offer you free cards in exchange for their logo on the reverse.
  • Be a little different and add something extra to your card. It could be your elevator speech, a special offer that the owner of the business card can receive, or printing out the link through to your free newsletter or perhaps even listing your services on the back. Make your card work for you in more than the most obvious of ways.
  • Some people like to have their photos on their card.This can be helpful as it helps people put a face to the card. I’ve never done this myself though so cannot speak from experience
  • An interesting business card holder is often a good conversation prop.


When you get back write down a little (even if it is on the back of their cards) about the people you meet. In a few days you may well have forgotten who is who, and who you promised to call about that workshop date in April! A practical filing system is also vital, whether it’s having a specific drawer for your cards (as I do) that you sort through on a regular basis, or transferring them into a contact managing programme. However, please don’t spam people by adding them to a newsletter or obvious database. You also need to keep GDPR and the new data protection laws in mind.

I often find that, after a networking evening, people get in touch with me just at the same time I’m composing an email to them. You can tell that these are the experienced networkers. A brief (no sales) email saying something along the lines of “it was lovely to meet you “and some reference to your
conversation is great and it keeps the lines open for further contact. Of course, if you got on like a house on fire, or had a huddled discussion about a joint venture that has got you both lit up with excitement, then by all means forge ahead!

Thinking outside the box


For those of us who can remember the ad, I would like to suggest thinking of networking as a Martini. It can be “any time, any place, anywhere” as the old Martini advert goes. People put a label on networking and think that it only takes place at designated events, but in reality, networking goes on all the time. There are opportunities to network at the school gates, the golf course, at a party or salsa lesson. Being aware of this can help you be ready for it. Networking should become a natural part of your life.

It’s not just a case of carrying a business card everywhere “just in case”. It’s an attitude, a realisation that the next person you meet might be a potential customer, or the key to your dream job.  And it’s inevitable that you bump into them when you’ve put on that baggy old pair of trousers that should have been thrown out years ago! Or, when you haven’t bothered to do your make up or even brush your hair because you
were only going to dash out pick up your son from a children’s party. Ten minutes after walking in you find out that the mother is the MD of a company
that would be your dream client.

Every time you leave the house or office you are selling and representing yourself or your business. Think of that next time you pull on your old gardening jumper for a quick trip to corner shop.


Your best networking tool and the very best tip I can give you is to be open and receptive to new types of people, new conversations and new experiences.  it’s a fascinating world out there!

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