There is nothing more awkward than networking. It is one of those tasks that's constantly pushed to the bottom of my to-do list. However, it remains one of those necessary evils -- along with keeping records for my taxes, organizing files and staying up-to-date on social media. After all, as the old adage goes, it's not what you know, but who you know.
So how can you make networking less taxing? While there is no cure all for networking awkwardness, here are four tips to make it a bit less painful:
1. Dont talk about work.
I know this probably sounds counterproductive. The whole point of networking is to discuss work, right? While that's true to some extent, networking will be even more productive if you can build long lasting relationships. I find that when I am just shooting the breeze with people, the pressure is taken off on how we can mutually benefit each other. Not thinking about what the other person can provide me has helped form stronger connections. If you get to know someone, without asking anything of them, chances are they will be more likely to help you out when you ask for things later on.
2. Bring a friend.
It is a lot easier to be social when you have a support system. If you are fortunate enough to have started your company with someone else, you already have a built-in networking buddy. However, for us solo entrepreneurs, we have to bribe and beg our friends to join us. Just be careful that you are not only socializing with the people you brought with you -- the whole key to successful networking is meeting new connections.
3. Ask questions.
To me, awkward silence is one of the most dreadful aspects of networking. As a result, I have become an expert at coming up with questions at the drop of a dime. There is no greater buzz kill than running out of things to say. My solution is to have an arsenal of canned questions to break the ice. This will hopefully spark a conversation.
4. Have your elevator pitch ready.
There is nothing more uncomfortable than meeting someone new and then they go off on a tangent about something you dont care about. You are stuck looking for the most polite escape route. When it comes to your business, [[something missing here?]] I know you probably love to talk about it (I am totally guilty too). However, as the founder, no one will ever care as much as you do. If work gets brought up, you should have your 30-second elevator pitch ready to go. If the person you are talking to wants additional information, they will ask for it. Bottom line: They dont need to know every detail about your life and business right away.
No matter how active you are on social media, nothing beats getting to know someone in person. And typically we meet new people by networking. It can be uncomfortable, but as you go to more events and meet more people, it should become less awkward.
What other tips do you have for making networking less painful? Let us know in the comments below.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Rebekah Epstein is the founder of fifteen media, an agency that works exclusively with PR firms to get more media placements for their clients. She specialized in lifestyle, technology, healthcare and business. She also blogs about the ups and downs of gen-y entrepreneurship at NeonNotebook.