Business Networking Hacks That Really Work

James is the CEO and Co-Founder of a startup technology company. He’s an Engineer by trade and a bookworm at heart. He runs a business that’s both relevant and growing; and now, in his role as CEO, he is being tasked by his Board of Directors to “get out there” and speak publicly on behalf of his company. There’s only one problem: James is terrified of speaking in crowds and even more nervous to give his “elevator pitch.”

So, James decided to get an executive coach to help him with his proverbial stage fright. Besides giving him exercises to practice speaking and giving his pitch, his coach, Barbara, who was at one time a CEO herself, suggested some networking hacks that simply make sense. For those of you who, like James, get nervous in crowds or to talk to others and network at business functions, here are some tips that will make it both easier and less stressful.

  • Think of the people you talk to as “new friends” not business contacts.  It will help you relax and make your discussions more authentic.
  • Let the other person talk first.  Ask them their story.  Get to know what is important to them and then tell your story in a way that is relevant to them.  
  • Watch their verbal cues and don’t take awkward conversation seriously.  Move on the from the subject at hand to a less stressful one, and then weave your way back later in the conversation.
  • Remember, the person you are talking to may just be as nervous as you are.
  • Make discussions count – in other words, play the long game.  Think of them as conversation starters not immediate wins.  Just having the discussion and connecting is your first networking victory.
  • Be noticeable – but in a good way.  Look confident.  If you must, as the saying goes, “fake it till you make it.”
  • And finally, get creative.

James paid careful attention to his coach and even practiced at home. He decided the successes he could have from business networking far outweighed his fear of speaking. That was one year ago. Since then, James has helped his company raise over $50 million, he has tripled his team in size, and has developed three very successful partnerships with other organizations. In short, getting past his fear of both speaking and networking literally changed the trajectory of his career, as well as that of every one of his employees.

When you think about it like that, it makes total sense. Now here’s exercise for those of you that feel you need some networking practice. But remember, like James, it just may change the trajectory of your career too!

First, find an index card and write down the top three things (in bullet form) that define you and your business. Make sure to include the reasons why your business works, and what you are looking to accomplish. Now, set your phone (or a camera) on a stand and record yourself as if you were at a networking event. Talk to your device as if it were a person for two minutes. When you are done, watch the video and see how great you are at this. It will build your confidence and help you tweak your pitch. You can do this repeatedly, until you have your messaging just right. It’s a trick media use and high-profile CEO’s use. Now, it’s in your business networking toolkit too!