This post is dedicated to fear; there are many types of fear but this particular type of fear affects many small business owners. It’s separate to self-belief /doubt and motivating yourself. Most of us can get a handle on that one – we believe in what we’re doing so passionately that we just keep going.

This fear is far deeper. It’s called Networking and it’s affected me in ways I never knew possible.

A confident lass, or so I thought

I studied Drama at University. I’m a confident person, I make friends with people easily, I can literally pretend to be interested in anyone (for the majority, it’s a genuine interest).

I’ve been brought up by a confident mother who, again, can hold herself and as a Chief Executive, has presented to large audiences.

It’s a very different situation if you have been invited as a speaker to a networking event. Nerve racking all the same; you have a focus, someone to report to as you arrive and a presentation to pretend to get ready – even though you know you’ve nailed it at home (well at least enough to wing it). I’m 100 times more confident when I’m presenting.

My method

It’s taken me a while but I have now found a method that works for me. It’s a bit backwards and time-consuming but it works. I have to go to everything twice.

In London, there are many networking events and they all take a different format. Some are very small and intimate (I don’t need to apply the ‘attend twice’ method for these) and those I rock straight into, head held high and chat away. Small networking events mean I can confidently walk into a room and see a table of heads look up, smile, welcome me over and I seamlessly join the conversation. But small isn’t always beneficial.

Other formats are speed networking. I quite like those; you keep rotating and have 2 minutes to exchange your details with the person sitting opposite. I went to the IKEA Croydon event twice before I fully understood the format and timings, e.g, what time I could actually arrive to miss the early morning breakfast but still be in time for networking. Large speed networking events are good because the number of attendees are higher, you speak with lots of people and keep moving but equally, they have downsides because they attract ‘all sorts’.  By this I mean; people who are simply not ready to be in business, people who lack passion, have a dirty t-shirt on or rely on me to do absolutely all the talking or just, literally, sit there, even after I have asked leading questions about their business. There are also times when you want a more specialist group; women, technology, start-ups, rail industry, events industry, lawyers etc.

The dreaded medium sized networking events

The networking events that really knock my confidence are medium sized. You walk through the entrance and can see, through a doorway, a room that is full of people talking, the roar of conversation is deafening and all you can see are groups of people already busy and engaged. It’s beyond terrifying. If they were all waiting for me to give a talk, no problem but no-one is expecting anything of me. No-one would notice if I walked through the room, cartwheeled and left. People are busy talking, discussing and exchanging tips.

Just look at all those people talking; where do you begin?

I always head out, hang my coat and pretend to be doing ‘important business’ on my phone whilst actually thinking “HELP”.

Then the event starts (normally cued by the speaker welcoming everyone), people settle, I walk back in, take a seat (or stand), exchange a one-liner with the person next to me and we’re off! It’s fine. It’s good. It’s great. I wonder what the heck I was worried about. But it’s a learning curve and the next time I know exactly how that particular networking event works (timing and structure) and I even turn up a little earlier for it. My confidence is sky high though.

This may seem silly for some but you have to figure out what works for you and for me; it’s the ‘attend twice’ method. Nailed. As everyone keeps harping on “it gets easier with time”, that’s really true too.