This article is part of DBA, a series on Mashable about running a business that features insights from leaders in entrepreneurship, venture capital and management.
You’re standing face-to-face with a professional in your industry who can help you advance your career. This is your chance to wow this person with a strong handshake, bright smile and direct eye contact, followed by a witty comment that initiates a loud fit of laughter.
However, you can’t communicate well or make a good first impression when your mouth is dry, your palms are sweaty, your thoughts are scattered and you’re blanking on that pitch you prepared.
Here’s the good news: These nervous feelings and anxious thoughts are completely normal (and, in fact, very common), and there are ways to overcome them. Before you know it, you’ll be shaking hands and expanding your network with ease and confidence.
Here are some networking tips to put to use when you feel intimidated.
1. Forget about the business side
Remember that engaging in a professional relationship is not an immoral practice founded on dishonesty. Job seekers should focus on maintaining a casual mentality and they should approach networking with a genuine curiosity instead of a fear of failure (or the more complicated fear of success).
In order to develop a relaxed mindset, job seekers should remind themselves that they are building a social network that is founded on mutual respect, genuine interest and a clear understanding of reciprocity.
In other words, you aren’t just hunting for favors and begging for advice and advancement opportunities. Besides, the people you meet and get to know while networking are just that people. They have families, obligations, fears and strengths and they spill mustard on their shirts just like you.
Once you remind yourself of the dynamics of a professional relationship, you can initiate conversations with confidence. Use a warm smile that says, “I’m approachable, and I’m excited to meet you.”
2. Nail down your pitch
According to a recent survey conducted by the University of Phoenix School of Business, 15% of working adults surveyed say they don’t have enough experience to make networking worthwhile. Don’t fall victim to missing out on a great opportunity just because your resume isn’t robust. This is where preparation comes in.
Preparing a pitch can be tricky because it can sound like a sales tactic. Avoid clichs and slogans so the listener knows that you’re sincerely presenting actionable solutions and not blowing smoke just to get a new job. Ultimately, a pitch should be a clear expression of your purpose and intentions. Here’s how to prep the perfect pitch:
Self-reflection: The first step is to really think about your goals. What is your purpose for speaking with this person? While the end goal is to advance your career in some way, your real focus is keeping the listener intrigued. You want him or her to be hooked and listen to your entire story.
Tell your story: Write a clear introduction that describes who you are, what you do and how you plan on helping the listener. Identify the problem that he or she has and show how your solution is the best one. This is where storytelling abilities come into play. Introduce a challenge, describe how you solved it and explain what you learned.
Integrate a call to action: Finally, leave the listener with something actionable. This is where you schedule a follow up, such as grabbing a cup of coffee or going out to lunch.
Practice makes perfect: Once you have this pitch written, read through it and practice several times. This is a great method for learning what you need to cover, but don’t try to memorize and recite it word for word your delivery shouldn’t feel contrived. You want to hit your strong talking points and deliver your pitch from a place of sincerity and confidence.
3. Relax and stand tall
All of these networking tips are only effective if you feel relaxed. People project their emotional states more than they realize through nonverbal cues. For example, crossed arms communicate resistance and a sense of defensiveness, whereas open arms make you appear more approachable.
Body language is more than just a representation of our emotional state. It can even affect our mentality. A September 2014 study conducted by researchers at the University of Auckland and published in Health Psychology found that standing up straight reduces stress. Upright participants said that they felt less fear, higher self-esteem and an overall better mood. Be mindful of your posture and how your body language is being presented when you’re approaching people to network with. They’re reading you before you have a chance to speak.
There are several other simple techniques that can help reduce stress and put you in a relaxed mindset. Certain stretches can provide stress relief, such as ear-to-shoulder stretches, spine rotations and toe touching. A study published by Oxford University Press in June 2014 found that regularly practicing yoga and other physical activity provided evidence of stress relief.
Also, practicing mindfulness through exercises like meditation, yoga and tai chi can increase self-awareness and build skills to manage stress. These exercises can also reduce negative emotions. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine published a study in May 2014 providing evidence suggesting that consistent meditation practice improves a person’s quality of life and general mental health. While incorporating practices like meditation into your daily routine would be the best practice, you should at least perform them leading up to a networking event or professional interaction.
Positive affirmations are a great way of shifting a negative mentality to a positive one. You can write your own by choosing a negative thought about yourself and writing the positive opposite that counteracts that belief. For example, if you’re thinking, “I don’t deserve this opportunity,” you can write an affirmation like, “I deserve this, and I am excited to succeed.” Affirmations like these are realistic and achievable perspectives that you can develop through repetition.
4. Schedule the follow-up
Now that you’re relaxed and armed with an awesome pitch and confident mindset, you are able to apply these networking tips. You have a great opportunity to seize or squander don’t do the latter. Make sure that once you shake hands, introduce yourself and nail that pitch, you schedule a follow-up.
It’s important to be clear about your intentions for a coffee or lunch meeting. For example, explain how you hope to discuss how you can be an asset to your contact’s company in a more detailed way. Also, use this first follow-up to further your rapport.
After the pitch and before the follow-up, send a quick email expressing your appreciation for their time. Finally, connect online through LinkedIn, and maintain an ongoing relationship with this contact and their network: Share information, join industry-related organizations, comment on relevant posts, and even contribute content to message boards.
These networking tips and relaxation techniques are realistic and effective methods for success.