I used to loath networking; during events I’d be in the corner thumbing through my blackberry. When you’re freelancing you have to network, so eventually I trained myself out of the fear, and began to enjoy it a little. Here’s what worked for me. I hope it helps you too.

6 Networking tips to help you work any room

Here are my six favorite networking tips that helped me escape networking-phobia.

1. Get present

We get anxious entering a networking event due to the thoughts running in our head, “what if I say something stupid”, “what if no one talks to me”, “I’m so awkward with people”, or whatever they may be.

Silence the voices in your head by listening to yourself inhale and exhale five times. Since you can only think of one thing at a time, breathing five conscious breaths takes you out of your head, out of those thoughts, and brings you into the present.

2. Keep the spotlight on them

People often mistake networking events for having to talk and sound clever, but it’s quite the opposite. People will rarely admit it, but they love hearing themselves talk. Take the pressure off you by letting them do all the talking.

“Talk to a man about himself, and he will listen for hours.” – Benjamin Disraeli

3. Make it easy for them to talk

Ask open questions that elicit a response of more than a couple of words, otherwise it gets awkward and you have to think of questions all the time. The easiest way is get them talk about their favourite topic. Them.

A question that never fails: “What’s exciting for you right now?”

This leaves it open for them to talk about whatever they like. One time a delegate’s eyes lit-up talking about his new ski-chalet business he ran on the side.

4. Build relationships not leads

Unless they’ve lived under a rock for the past ten years, each person you meet has a network of at least one-hundred people. Instead of thinking of networking as growing your network, shift your mindset to building relationships.

Whenever you enter a room, focus on quality not quantity, because when you’ve engaged five people in a room of fifty, you’ve gained access to potentially 500 people.

5. Follow-up

Before you leave the event, if appropriate, get their business card, because people rarely follow-up. Since you let them do most of the talking at your initial meeting, you should have a good sense of their interests.

When you follow-up, instead of sending your portfolio, send them something of use, of interest, or make an introduction, explaining why they might be interested. There’s no need to enclose a “by the way, here’s my website”; your email signature is enough. People are curious, they will look you up.

6. Give instead of take

Focus your initial efforts on helping them; don’t pitch you or your services. When you do this right, there will be a time when they ask how they can help you, or they will introduce you to someone who could use your help.

I’ve found these tips have helped me build deeper relationships and attract new business opportunities. So, don’t be afraid, get out there, and get people talking about their favorite topic: them! When you make contact, focus on giving, give your attention and explore ways to help them. Keep doing that and people will want to do business with you.