Everyone already knows each other. Nobody will talk to you. What makes you think that you're an expert? People will find out that you know nothing. You won’t have anything to say. There’s no point going. You’ll probably have thought at least one of these things if you try networking with social anxiety. I know I have.
This month I launched a business. After working flat-out for months on end, researching the market, planning strategies and creating a professional website, it was finally time to share it all with the world. To say I was anxious would be an understatement.
Despite having an M.Sc. Marketing degree and good work experience, I was terrified that, as soon as I started to talk to people about my business, they’d think I just wasn’t good enough. Can anyone else relate?
Described as an intense feeling of self-doubt and inadequacy despite having success, Imposter Syndrome is much more common than you think. In fact, research from 2011 suggests that around 70% of us will experience at least one episode in their lives, with high-achieving women particularly affected.
Combine Imposter Syndrome with my Social Anxiety and it’s fair to say that networking isn’t my favourite thing. However, it is getting much better!
Determined not to let my anxiety prevent me from achieving success, I’ve learnt how to control my Imposter Syndrome so I can feel much more comfortable networking with social anxiety. Whilst I might still be nervous when I walk into a room full of new people, I’m able to talk about my business with confidence and connect with potential clients.
Want to know how you can manage your networking anxiety like me? Read on to find out my top tips to help you mute your inner critic, control your fears and become confident networking with social anxiety.
How to Network When You're feeling Anxious
1. Know that you are not alone
You're unlikely to ever be the only person in a room that is feeling anxious and there are probably plenty of local business owners feeling just like you. Connect with others who suffer from network anxiety to help you manage any feelings of frustration or embarrassment.
2. Take time to understand your anxiety
Everybody’s anxiety is different but pinpointing your triggers will help you manage it effectively. If you need help, try learning some mindfulness techniques to explore your anxiety further.
3. Make an action plan to deal with your triggers
Developing an action plan might be trial-and-error to begin with, but once you have one, you’ll be much more confident networking with social anxiety.
4. Start networking on social media
Use social media to your advantage and connect with people who you’re likely to meet. By doing this, you’ll already have established a relationship before the conference.
5. Start small and build it up
Don’t feel like you have to face your fears of networking and go to a huge international conference straight away. Start by attending smaller events in your local area, slowly increasing the size as you get more confident.
6. Practice makes perfect
Having a ‘script’ isn’t for everyone, but knowing your elevator pitch and how to introduce yourself will help you overcome any initial awkwardness. I also like to have a couple of questions in case there are any gaps in the conversation.
7. Make practical arrangements
Arriving at a conference flustered and late after getting lost will only heighten your social anxiety. Plan ahead and make some practical arrangements like how you’re going to get there and what you’re going to wear so you can focus on showing up as your best self.
8. Know your intentions for networking
You don’t want to overcome your networking anxiety only to get nothing out of networking. Set some realistic goals and targets for networking so you have a reason behind your connections. I’m also a big fan of visualisation and focus on my vision of how the connections will help my business instead of my triggers.
Tips for dealing with social anxiety at conferences
9. Add as much comfort as possible
If networking moves you out of your comfort zone, do as many things that do comfort you as possible before you go. I like to listen to some of my favourite business podcasts to get me in the right mindset.
10. Look after yourself
You can’t pour from an empty cup so make sure you look after yourself before you start networking. Eat something sensible that won’t upset your stomach and avoid caffeine and alcohol.
11. Dress to impress
Wear something that you feel confident in but is also comfortable so you can focus on making connections instead of your clothes. If your social anxiety makes you feel flushed, think about wearing layers and clothes that won’t show any sweat patches.
12. Take a plus one
Attending networking events with a friend or colleague can give you a huge confidence boost and guarantees that you will always have someone to talk to.
13. Think about your body language
It’s difficult to stop your social anxiety from affecting your body language but it can make a huge difference to the connection you make and your mindset. Try to remember to smile and don’t hide behind your phone.
14. Get involved
There’s no easy way to start networking, you just have to take a deep breath and introduce yourself. I recommend putting some information like your speciality or unique selling point on your business cards to act as a talking point.
15. Keep your inner critic in check
I’m my own worst critic and negative self-talk whilst I’m networking will always make the experience worse. Take 5 minutes and practise mindfulness or grounding techniques to keep any doubts at bay.
16. Have an exit strategy
If networking with social anxiety gets too much, know that you can leave at any time. Plan an exit strategy beforehand so you don’t panic and make your anxiety even worse.
What to do after networking
17. Reward yourself once you’ve finished
Once you’ve finished networking reward yourself for stepping outside of your comfort zone. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, just something you love to celebrate your win.
18. Reflect on your experience
Whether you think you’ve been successful or not, try to reflect on your networking experience after you’ve finished. Instead of focusing on lots of negative things, I try and limit this to 3 wins and 3 things to improve on.
19. Follow up with your connections
You’ve done the hard work so don’t waste the effort of networking with social anxiety and waste opportunities. Follow up with your connections soon after you meet to stay at the front of their mind.
20. Plan the next one
Like most things, networking gets easier the more you do it. Whilst it might never be in your comfort zone, scheduling to attend events regularly will stop you from building your social anxiety up in your mind.
After using these tips, I’m much more confident networking for my marketing and blog assistant business and every time I do it, it becomes more comfortable.
I hope you’ve been able to pick up a few tips to help you combat your network anxiety! Comment down below any tips you have to help your fellow BossBabes!
Jessica Riley is a Virtual Marketing & Blog Assistant from Manchester, UK.
With an M.Sc. in Marketing, she helps bloggers and small business create click-worthy content through a wide range of services including content planning, blog post writing and, social media management and engagement.
She also writes a Travel & Lifestyle Blog called The Crown Wings and has worked with leading brands such as St. Tropez and Icelolly.com.