12 ways to get outside your comfort zone at networking events

Most of us have a comfort zone. Mine’s walking into a workshop and talking about various job search topics. I guess I’ve been leading workshops on the job search for so long–thousands over the course of eight years–that engaging with people (the more the better) is second nature to me. I’m comfortable and in my zone.

comfort-zoneThere are times when I’m not comfortable, like when I have to order a meal—I’m indecisive and usually defer to Kung Pao Chicken—or talking to complete strangers at a networking event. While I attend networking events on occasion, I still experience a bit of discomfort.

If you’re like me, and feel uncomfortable entering a large room full of strangers, you’re experiencing what it’s like to leave your comfort zone. You shouldn’t feel that it’s unusual to feel this way, but you must continue attending networking events. They are necessary in your job search.

This means you must get outside your comfort zone. So how do you get outside your comfort zone? Follow these steps:

  1. Like Nike says, “Just do it.” That’s right, tell yourself that meeting new contacts is necessary in order to shorten your job search.
  2. Think of what it really is, connecting with people who are at a networking event to help each other in the hopes of developing relationships. The emphasis is on getting to know each other and not entirely on creating business or gathering leads. You’ll meet again.
  3. Set a goal of how many people you’ll talk with. If you’re an extravert, you may prefer to work the room—the more the better. Introverts prefer fewer but deeper conversations, so set a goal of meeting two or three quality contacts.
  4. Get emotionally prepared. One way to get prepared is by choosing a nice outfit to wear, but nothing too fancy. The ones who have been attending for a while are usually nicely dressed, although not necessarily wearing a three-piece suit. Ask about the dress code if you’re not sure.
  5. Have your personal business cards ready. There’s nothing more embarrassing than being asked for your card and not having one. I personally leave a stack of business cards in the glove compartment of my car just in case.
  6. Bring a friend along or plan to meet someone at the event. I tell my workshop attendees there’s no reason why they need to do it alone. Driving together will give them time to strategize as to when it will be best to separate at the event.
  7. Approach people who are standing alone. They’re waiting for someone like you to start the conversation. They’re out of their comfort zone, too, so be humane and help someone get acclimated. It will make you feel good.
  8. Speaking of conversation, you should have your talking points ready. Current events are fine as long as you stay away from religion and politics. No sense in starting an argument. If conversation isn’t going well, break away very politely. No hard feelings.
  9. Don’t come on too strong. I still remember a public relations coordinator who approached me at a trade show; hand outstretched, he launched into his memorized 30-second commercial. Although his commercial was excellent, he sounded stiff an unnatural.
  10. Speaking to #9, you’ll need an elevator speech, but ease into it with a little small talk, or wait until you’re asked about yourself.
  11. Listen to others. This will help you get outside your comfort zone because it will allow you time to think about what you want to say–especially helpful for those who dislike making small talk.
  12. Take a breather if you need to. Walk outside and take in some fresh air. Just remember to return.

Bonus. Once you’ve accomplished getting outside your comfort zone and feel great about “Just doing it,” you will need to followup with the people you’ve met. Take the attitude that if you don’t initiate the follow-up it won’t happen, even if this means getting outside your comfort zone.

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