Networking is an integral part of growing and developing your business, but it’s a word that can strike fear in many who don’t enjoy social interactions as much as others.

Whether you call yourself an introvert, a shy type or a background kind of operator, the problem is the same – you’d rather spend a day in the dentist’s chair than walk into a room full of strangers and start a conversation.

Those who avoid networking functions and events can miss out on all sorts of opportunities.

But with just a few simple tips, you’ll be working that room like a pro.

Set your goals

This may sound a bit silly – you’re going to an event or workshop to meet people, not establishing a business plan right? But having a clear idea of what you want to get out of the night will make it easier for you to stay on track and not feel as though your nerves could take over. Perhaps you’re there for professional development, to learn something new that could help you run your business. Perhaps you’re there to seek out new clients and let people know about what you do. Maybe you’re looking for partnerships or even potential new staff members. Set some goals so at the end of the event you feel as though you have achieved something.

Choose the right events

If meeting people is a challenge for you, don’t waste your time by signing up to several events where you think you should just show your face and may not be applicable to you and your goals – it will most likely stress you and put you off attending other, more relevant, events in the future. If you are a local business, choose functions close to home. If you offer a national service, look towards events that are industry-focused. Less can sometimes be more.

Plan your chats

Having some pre-prepared conversation-starters is an excellent way to feel more confident and ease your anxiety. If you are attending an event with a keynote speaker, do some Googling about them so you have some ice breakers when chatting to other attendees. Do something beforehand which makes you feel happy – this could be anything from an endorphin-producing swim, your favourite lunch or a chat with a close friend to pep you up. Having a positive attitude from the start is great for you to be able to speak comfortably about yourself and your business.

Dive right in

When you arrive, try to resist those overwhelming sensations to find a dark corner or try to blend in with the curtains. Approach another attendee standing on their own – chances are they are just as nervous as you are and you can help each other out. If someone you know is at the event, go up to them to say hello – but don’t stay with them all night. Remember you are there to talk to new people and learn a little about their business journey too. If you are really struggling – ask the organiser for help. They will happily introduce you to someone you would like to meet or who might be a strategic match.

The big no-nos

Don’t go overboard with the sales pitch at networking events – it’s a huge turn-off. People will more likely to be interested in your story, that is, why you got into business and why you love your industry, than they will in a hard sell. Similarly, don’t force your business card onto every person you interact with – it’s one of the huge bugbears of attendees at networking functions. Your product or service may not align with theirs and you might come across as pushy. Give your card to someone if you have both found a meaningful reason to stay in touch.

With a few tips and a little practice, even the most introverted of businesspeople can get a lot out of a networking event. Remember, it’s never as bad as you think it will be!