In my own simplistic definition, networking is all about connecting well with others, creating a positive experience, making people feel comfortable in your presence, and having people wanting to engage with you further.
Just eight years ago I was terrified of strangers and couldn't meet anyone 1-to-1 in a cafe – let alone attend an event or do public speaking now. I was desperate to change and so made a pact with myself to learn how to network. It took some time before I got to my first business event so I started practicing by interacting with people in my everyday life. If networking is about connecting well with others, we are interacting all day, every day with people.
Whether it is engaging with a receptionist, a checkout operator, a petrol pump attendant, a parent at the school gate, a barista in a café, or a bus driver – these are all interactions in which you can practice connecting with others. It was far less daunting for me to talk to people knowing the interaction would be only a couple of minutes. As my confidence would build, I could extend the conversation. It started with two or three statements or questions and went from there until I was finally confident enough to start networking.
There are other non-verbal ways to connect with others as well. My business is based in two regions so often I'm driving on the open road. I come across logging and milk trucks on my travels. Whilst they could own the road, they choose to pull over and let me pass. I love to give a friendly toot which is received well. One time I did so and just 6 kilometres up the road my car broke down. Who was the only person to stop and help me? That truckie! You just never know the impact your actions can make. He verbally acknowledged my thanks, which also made my day.
Being in a major city, there is continual traffic to contend with. I always like to show my appreciation for anyone who lets me into traffic with a simple wave. It is amazing the positive response people have to that acknowledgement.
Consider how you can use your everyday interactions to grow your confidence, connect with people, and get comfy talking – you never know how it will help.