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5 ways to beat networking nerves

By Amy Wilkinson

- Last updated on GMT

Leadership coach, Amy Wilkinson, explains how you can be better networker. Credit: Getty/Compassionate Eye Foundation/David Oxberry
Leadership coach, Amy Wilkinson, explains how you can be better networker. Credit: Getty/Compassionate Eye Foundation/David Oxberry

Related tags Leadership Business

Leadership coach Amy Wilkinson gives top tips to help you build your conversation confidence and help you forge meaningful connections at food and drink business events.

The ability to confidently network can really set you apart as a leader in the food and drink space. It not only helps you connect with potential mentors, but it will also give you fresh perspectives that can help you become a stronger leader.

For many of us, the idea of networking is pretty terrifying and can become a massive blocker to career development and also to our influence in the industry.

This is why we came up with the concept for ‘Nourish Your Network’ events which are less ‘warm wine and small talk’ and more ‘curious conversations and cake’.

The first session was held at Sainsbury’s Holborn office and was a great success. At the event, we shared the neuroscience behind why networking can be scary for some and not for others. Importantly, we also delved into what you can do about it.

Broadly, our brains want to keep us safe and that can create a fear of rejection which makes some people feel really nervous in these situations.

Here I’ve encapsulated some of the key takeaways from that session into five ‘digestible’ tips that will help you network more effectively, especially if the thought of it makes you want to run and hide.

Five networking tips

1. Reframe the word ‘networking’

As soon as we call something ‘networking’, it can feel more pressurised than it needs to be. Reframing it as an ‘interesting conversation’ or ‘finding out something new about other people’ can really help.

Take the focus off yourself and what you’re going to say and get curious about other people. In fact, the ability to ask a lot of questions (and to listen intently to the answers) is a great way to become a successful networker without feeling like the spotlight is all on you.

2. Rehearse if you need to

We have all heard that we need to have an elevator pitch about ourselves which, just like the word networking, may fill us with fear. The fear that people won’t find what we have to say about ourselves that interesting. Rehearsing ahead of time can help the conversation flow on the day and have three topics up your sleeve to keep the conversation flowing.

3. Be intentional

Going into a networking session, it can be helpful to set yourself a goal of the number of people you will talk to, particularly if you’re prone to finding one person to talk to and sticking with them for the whole event. If you know who is attending beforehand, make a mental note of who you would like to connect with and make a special effort to speak to them.

4. Have an engagement strategy

Find yourself a networking partner, to attend events with, if it feels too much to attend alone – you can spur each other on and make the experience less daunting (but beware the risk of standing in the corner, not talking to anyone else!).

If you are attending alone and concerned about walking up to a group of strangers, look out for, and approach groups of three – it’s much easier to join a conversation that way, than trying to break into a one-to-one conversation or a large group. You’ll often find the third wheel in the conversation is glad of someone else to talk to.

5. Look for everyday networking opportunities

Not all of us are made for the big, in-person networking events. Whilst it’s important to be able to hold your own in those situations, there are plenty of other ways to build your network. The world of remote and hybrid working has made it easier than ever to have a virtual cuppa with people who you meet online.

If one to one conversation feels more natural to you, this can be a great way to build your network – with no warm wine and awkward conversations in sight.

Follow-up with people

Once you have braved the big (or small) networking event, do make sure to follow up with the contacts that you meet. Connect with them on LinkedIn, send them a quick message and if there was something you talked about that could be mutually beneficial to both of you, then offer a follow up call or meet up.

Nourishing your network is an ongoing activity and it is much more than attending a one-off networking event. It’s about having nourishing conversations that can open doors.  

In the fast moving world of food, where innovation and collaboration are key to staying ahead, the art of networking cannot be overlooked.  

Building connections within the industry is a continuous process that requires curiosity, intentionality and follow-through. Whether through a casual virtual cuppa or a strategically attended event, each interaction is a step toward strengthening your leadership and enhancing your influence in the food industry. Embrace these opportunities and see where your enriched network can lead you and your career.

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