Networking is an essential part of business life, but it is also one of those activities that you either love or hate.

Walking into a room full of strangers and having to break into a group’s conversation can be one of the scariest things out, and if you’re like me, you’d probably rather swim with Great White Sharks than go through that on a regular basis.

But it doesn’t have to be that way – or so I’m reliably informed.

The social side of networking

Social media has opened a whole new way to network, which can be enjoyed by everyone.

It’s almost as though, because you’re not all cooped up in a room, people relax and chat more. They don’t feel as though they must leave with at least one sales lead (which is never the best mind-set for networking).

And before you shout “Ah yes, but social networking is full of spammers pushing their products at you”, which does happen, physical networking also has its fair share of spammers – what about that guy who immediately hands you a brochure before even saying hello?

One of the main benefits of social networking is that you can do it from your desk. If you’re snowed under it’s often difficult to make time to get out to an organised event. But if you dabble on the social side, you can easily fit in a few posts and tweets whilst sat at your desk.

After you…

There is another type of networking – you probably don’t even think of it as networking – and that’s when you meet people in everyday life. You strike up conversations everywhere – in the school playground, in the bus queue or on the train.

And what’s one of the first questions you automatically ask? “So, what do you do?”

This type of conversation often leads to finding out interesting information because it’s far more informal and the person you’re speaking with is less likely to launch into their well-rehearsed sales pitch when not in a traditional networking environment.

Striking up a conversation

So we’ve looked at social networking and ‘free-styling’, but what about those dreaded formal situations? How do you make the most of them?

If, like me, you hate having  to try into groups of people, look for someone who’s also on the fringes and try to chat to them. Rather than opening with ‘Hello, my name is Sally and I’m a copywriter’, ask a question about them – normally not work related.

If it’s a lady and she happens to be wearing a striking necklace, comment on it and start a conversation that way. Basically, comment on anything other than work to get to know them as a person rather than them as a business.

That’s just the way I deal with it – how about you?

Leave a comment below and see what tips we can muster between us to make your networking more effective (and less scary).