Have you ever been to a networking event and felt nervous? Your palms begin to sweat, your hands start to tremble, you begin to panic and are scared to say the wrong thing?

This is networking anxiety. It is a form of social anxiety relating to the apprehension and discomfort you feel when you are in professional, social situations.

If you struggle with making small talk, approaching strangers or introducing yourself to new people, you have networking anxiety. The good news is there are ways to overcome it and break the stigma.

Is it common? 

Networking anxiety is more common than you think. It impacts many professionals and can increase the feeling of self-doubt and fear. Unfortunately, it is common for those struggling with networking anxiety to avoid networking altogether, preventing career and personal growth. Professionals can miss out on meeting new clients & candidates, building valuable connections in their field and missing out on important and insightful events. It can even result in social isolation. 

Can I overcome it?

Overcoming networking anxiety is not easy. It will be challenging and scary, but that means that it is working. You are not supposed to feel comfortable overcoming a fear, but there are strategies to make it more manageable.

You should start off by reaching out to your network on LinkedIn. This way, you are practicing approaching others without feeling under pressure. Once you are comfortable reaching out to people online, try attending small, in-person networking events (when you are ready). Your confidence will build with time, so keep attending events until you become more confident. Once you gain confidence, you can try setting yourself small, realistic goals at each networking event. For example, approach two new people at each event or ask a question during a panel discussion. Finally, focus on the other person you are speaking with. If you are focusing on the conversation, you will not be thinking about your anxiety.

Be more confident!

We’ve all heard of the stereotypical “fake-it-‘til-you-make-it” statement, but it is true. If you fake confidence until you feel comfortable, it will take you further than you’d expect. It will take time and effort to become more confident but try to go into an event with a positive mindset and have goals in mind. You will feel proud of yourself for meeting these goals and expectations. You can also bounce off other people by actively listening and asking relevant questions to build rapport. Remember to keep practicing – confidence does not grow overnight! Keep attending events until you no longer feel uncomfortable.

Ready to get started?

The thought of networking can seem daunting, but you will never improve unless you start. Begin by setting yourself goals. Ask yourself what you want to achieve from networking, and how you can get there. You can start slowly, by joining online communities and sending out a few LinkedIn requests or messages to professionals. Begin attending relevant events to meet new people and open up opportunities for yourself. Once you feel confident, you can begin to sell yourself. Give out business cards and send personalised follow-up messages after an event, this will make you stand out and create a lasting impression.

Written by Emma Mitchell