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Network With Confidence

Afraid to meet new people? It's time you faced your fears, because that's what networking is all about.

Q: I have a lot of trouble feeling comfortable enough to introduce myself to total strangers, but I know this is important in networking. How can I overcome this obstacle?

A: In her book Skills for Success: A Guide to the Top for Men and Women , Adele M. Scheele tells about a cocktail party where she met someone who was hesitant to introduce himself to total strangers. Scheele suggested that he "consider a different scenario for the evening. That is, consider himself the party's host instead of its guest." She asked him: What if he were the host? Wouldn't he introduce himself to people he didn't know and then introduce them to each other? Wouldn't he watch for lulls in conversations or bring new people over to an already-formed small group?

Scheele's new acquaintance acknowledged the obvious difference between the active role of the host and the passive role of the guest. Scheele concluded that "there was nothing to stop this man from playing the role of host, even though he wasn't the actual host."

Now I know that sounds easy, but when it comes right down to it, actually acting like the host isn't so simple for many people. Not all individuals are good at "acting" like something they are not. Therefore, I have one important thing to add to this advice: Don't "act" like the host, "be" the host.

Most of the business organizations you go to have a position that is responsible for meeting visitors. And I know it sounds crazy telling someone who is uncomfortable meeting new people at a networking event to be the host. At first, it must sound a little like telling a boxer to "lean into a punch!" But there's a big difference, and it really works.

Most people's fears relating to meeting new people at networking events come from not having a proper context to introduce themselves to others. Just as Scheele points out, when you are the host, you don't feel uncomfortable introducing yourself to someone you don't know who's at your party. So the key in feeling comfortable is to establish the proper context.

To establish the proper context, I recommend that you volunteer to be an ambassador, or a visitor host, at the networking groups you belong to. An ambassador or visitor host is someone who greets all the visitors and introduces them to others. Over time, this type of position will give you an opportunity to meet many people, put them together with others and become an accomplished gatekeeper. Helping others connect, meet and get what they need will unquestionably help you build your business. Furthermore, it will do it in a way that helps others.

By using this technique, you'll start to develop excellent networking skills and get great exposure to many business professionals in a short time.

A distinguishing characteristic of self-made millionaires is that they network everywhere. Most importantly, they do it all the time--at business conferences, at the health club, on the golf course or with the person sitting next to them on a plane. This fact alone should motivate you to place yourself in situations where you can meet new people and do so in a way that you feel comfortable.

It's not called net-sit or net-eat, it's called net-work. If you want to become a better networker, give this technique a try. You will be pleased with the results.

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Ivan Misner is founder and chairman of BNI, a professional business networking organization headquartered in Upland, Calif. He is co-author, with Hazel Walker and Frank De Raffele, of Business Networking and Sex: Not What You Think (Entrepreneur Press, 2012).
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