So many PAs have said to me: ‘I am absolutely terrified about walking into a room full of strangers.’ I reply: That’s OK, they are just people you haven’t got to know yet.’

Then they say: ‘I am not very good at networking’, ‘I find that my hands are shaking or my voice goes all jittery’, ‘My legs were shaking’, ‘I just don’t have the confidence to go up to anyone when I arrive to speak to them’ or, ‘I don’t know what to say.’

For a lot of people, this lack of confidence starts before they have even arrived at the networking
meeting. In fact, quite a few have told me that they have done such a good job of talking themselves out of going that they have not even turned up. It is no wonder they are not getting a return on their investment.

Think about some of the situations you have experienced where you were really excited but you may have been a bit shaky. Think back to the first date you ever had, perhaps you were a little bit nervous so you had a dry throat and that little shakiness, but you were really excited as well.

So be careful not to confuse nerves with excitement. You could be really excited about going to a networking event and getting to know people; excited about standing up and saying something about what you do.

So what are you saying to yourself? Are you telling yourself and other people that you are terrible at networking, that you never know what to say, that you are not confident at networking, that you find it scary?

If this is the first ever networking meeting you are going to or the first group you are going to, where is the evidence that you are not good at networking?

You have been networking for a long time, longer than you realise, as you have been doing it on a personal basis. Think about going to parties or wedding receptions when you are speaking to people you do not know. You would be friendly, just getting to know them. You might ask them a bit about themselves: what they do for a living, about their business or career, or if you notice they have children you ask about their family.

We all do it. We all network in a personal sense, but something turns on a switch in a lot of us that says it is scary when you do it for business and we experience a loss of confidence.

Suddenly women find it intimidating to walk into a room where there are men. Well actually, not every man is scary and I always ask where is the evidence that these men are scary? 99% of the people that I have met, both men and women, in networking situations have been lovely.

First of all, work on your mindset: how do you know that you are not good at or confident about networking? What if you went to your networking meeting and you really enjoyed it?

Plan to prepare or prepare to fail
You can help to build your confidence by preparation – know the location of the venue and how you are going to get there; feel comfortable about yourself and plan what you are going to wear. Do not turn up at a networking meeting wearing high stilettos.

Okay, if you are a man you are probably not wearing stilettos but make sure you wear comfortable shoes. Wear something that stands out. Now I am not saying turn up with a high visibility jacket or a fluorescent skirt, but perhaps a pair of red shoes or a red brooch or red framed glasses — something that is going to stand out and that you will be remembered for.

Prepare what you are going to say, as when you know what you are saying, you will feel a whole lot more confident about yourself.

Think about the type of questions people might ask you, but if someone asks you a question and you do not know the answer, just say: ‘Do you know what, that’s a really good question, I would like to give it some thought and come back to you.’ It’s OK, there is nothing wrong with that whatsoever.

Preparation will definitely help boost your confidence and I know because I have seen it with so many people. As part of your preparation let’s go through a few things here.

Speak to the host of the networking meeting that you are attending and get a feel for what
to expect: Are you just going to mingle with people or are you going to have to say something about what you do?

How many people are in the group?

What type of people?

What types of industries are represented there?

Make sure you know where the venue is and arrive earlier than everyone else!

If you arrive half an hour before that meeting, you can chat to the organiser, and this is a great opportunity to ask for help. Ask if they can introduce you to any particular members or have a look at the list of attendees and say: ‘Great! I would like to be introduced to that person, is that OK?’ Now they are not going to turn round and say ‘Of course not! Do it yourself!’ because they have to make the networking meetings work, otherwise nobody would bother attending.

You are asking the organiser to be introduced to people which is fantastic. That means, as they arrive, people are going to approach you to talk, so you don’t have to do any of the approaching.

Planning and preparing is really important for your confidence and knowing what to say.

Act and Smile!
When we are growing up we model ourselves on the people around us — our parents, our peers and our teachers — anyone that has an influence over us. You might find that when you are talking you hear your mother’s voice — I know that when I am talking I sound just like my mother. My mannerisms and body language are very similar to hers. But what I have also done is watched people, especially people that I admire. I have watched how they talk. I have watched and listened to their body
language. I have noticed the tonality in their voice. I have noticed the impact they have had on other people when they are standing there. I have not yet met Chris Gardner face-to-face but I have seen video streams of him. He is very tall and he has a presence about him and actually reminds me very much of someone I used to work for quite a while back.

If you talk with a very high pitched voice
people switch off, especially if you also talk
quickly. By using a lower voice, a little bit like
Margaret Thatcher, you will have a greater air
of confidence, authority and control and it is
more appealing to more peoples’ ears.

This must be coupled with breathing because
when you are feeling a lack of confidence and
you are feeling nervous you start to talk quickly
and your breathing gets faster and faster and
you are trying to catch your breath and you
can’t really get the next word in but you want
to say it quickly just so you can get it over and
done with and sit down again and … nobody
has heard a word that you have said.

Breathe!
Breathe in deeply through your nose and breathe out slowly through your mouth. Just keep doing that. By controlling your breathing you will talk at a much steadier pace with a lower voice and people will listen to you. They will like listening to you and you will feel calmer.

If you are telling yourself you are not confident or you are nervous, then your speech will get quicker and quicker. That does not help you and it does not help your confidence. So model yourself on people that you admire as good networkers or good presenters. Notice their body language and how they engage with people. How they build a rapport in a networking meeting because building a rapport is very important. Model yourself on that person.

Act as if you are a confident person. Up until now you have been acting very well as somebody who is nervous and with no confidence. So if you are that good you can act as someone who is confident. You have modelled yourself on other people, so act like them: you have picked up on tonality, on the pace that they talk, their body language and how they engage with people.

We do buy into acting. I am sure many of you have watched a film and you are either laughing away or you are in tears because you believe the person you are watching to be the character — but they are playing that role. They are acting.

People are so much more attractive and approachable when they smile.

Smile, smile, smile – it is really important. When you smile you start to feel good. When you are not feeling happy forcing your face to smile actually sends a different reaction and message to your brain, telling it you are now happy and eventually you start to feel different. When you smile, you stand up straight, your breathing is controlled, you tell yourself positive affirmations and positive statements, you think differently, you tell yourself how excited you are about going to this networking meeting and your confidence will come through. All of these are actions are guaranteed. This is absolutely true, it sends a message to the brain to change the way you feel.

Let your passion shine through
Let your passion shine through! You know this is your business! Love it! Love talking about it! For some people their lack of confidence comes from feeling embarrassed at talking about themselves and they worry that they are coming across as salesy.

Love what you do. The one comment I receive time and time again is: ‘You have an amazing energy and a passion for what you do.’ I say: ‘I know! I love it! I love what I do. I love supporting PAs to become a success in their business. I love giving them the secrets to marketing their business and how to network effectively. I love it!’

And that is the sort of impression you want to make with people. You do not want to be talking so that you think ‘I really don’t want to be doing this.’

As part of being confident, let your passion about what you do shine through.

Remember it is not all about you. There will be other people attending the event who are thinking: ‘Oh gosh. I do not know what to say. I’m not feeling very confident. I feel nervous.’ How lovely that they have someone like you to approach them and make them feel comfortable.

When you walk into a room and it is already full of people you could ask the organiser to introduce you to somebody — explain that this is your first time networking and you would like to get to know people.

Please do not say that you are feeling very nervous or not very confident because then you are sending out the wrong message and you are reaffirming what has possibly been in your mindset up until now.

So the only person who is stopping you from having a confident and exciting experience from networking is… well… you! I have seen too many amazing transformations from my clients just from changing their mindset. The power lies within you. “

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Carmen MacDougall came from a corporate background as a PA and Office Manager before establishing her VA business over 12 years ago after redundancy. She since established herself as one of the leading trainers on setting up and running a successful ... (Read More)

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