I remember the day like it was yesterday, not a few decades ago. I walked into a room of strangers, a mix of 5-year-olds like me, plus their parents and our very first teachers. I remember feeling scared, overwhelmed, excited, but unsure. I didn’t know a single person besides my mom, and she’d soon be leaving me. I clung close to her side, observing the others and waiting to see what happened next.
There were two kindergarten classes in one room, and eventually, we were being called name by name to be sorted into our groups. I remember hearing the name “Nicole” , and walked hesitantly to the front of the room. There, I found two other confused little girls, also named Nicole. Turns out, I wasn’t the right Nicole, but in that moment, I found a connection with the other two, and we all became each other’s first friends.
Fast forward to a few years ago. A lot had changed, but I was in a similar situation. I had recently moved to a new city and was trying to find connections for my business. I didn’t know a single person, and prior to then, didn’t need to market my company locally to find business. For the first time in several years, I felt like I did that first day of kindergarten.
I walked into a local chamber of commerce meeting with hesitation, fear, and angst. Once again, I didn’t know a single person, but I did know that I needed to make allies, friends, colleagues, and customers. One stone-cold fact kept glaring at me: I didn’t know how to network.
Over the years, I had forgotten the one basic key to networking: find common ground.
I found that avoidance had become my go-to mechanism, but I was no longer in a position to resist that practice of introducing yourself to strangers. I sat, observed, and approached very few people during the business card exchange. I asked questions and tried to be confident, despite being terrified. I felt like that 5-year-old little girl again.
The next time, I decided to find shared experiences and make connections. I made it a point to remember names and specific information about the person, then recorded it in my Outlook contact list and information. At each meeting, I briefly connect with those I know, connect them with others, and connect with new people with ease. Each time, it grew a bit easier and easier to do.
Networking is scary — but we were able to do it in kindergarten and didn’t die.
I’m not a networking expert, but since that event a few years back, I have learned a thing or two about networking myself and my business. I still walk into a room with hesitation and fear, but that quickly subsides as I remember what I need to do, and the things I’ve practiced. A commonality is the simplest way to connect with someone new, then it’s up to you to build a meaningful connection. Getting over the fear of meeting new people gets easier with time.