Earlier this year I was a finalist in the Cambridgeshire Digital Awards 2016 in the Creative and Marketing category. When I found out I was a finalist I had mixed emotions, I was over the moon, but I was also nervous, scared and a little worried if I am honest.
What do I say? How will I introduce myself? Other finalists are in teams, I will be all alone, will anyone talk to me? - All these questions ran through my head and as an introvert I am awful at networking, especially when it comes to talking about my business, so I decided this is something I need to work on.
That is where this post comes into play. I can’t be the only introvert, or the only person to struggle when it comes to networking, so I wanted to share my tips on how I overcame, or rather dealt with, the issues and how you can as well.
Although I had made my decision, and I wasn't going to attend the CDAs, numerous people convinced me otherwise. After all, this is an experience I am yet to have and what better way to learn and better myself than to attend.
So with my positive hat on I bought a couple of tickets and started preparing myself.
1 | Take someone with you
The first hurdle to overcome was to figure out if I was allowed to take someone with me. There was no indication that I couldn't and so I bought 2 tickets so that I wasn't alone in attending. I then needed to decide on who I would take. That bit was simple. Someone I was comfortable with.
My first choice was my husband, Anil, but as we had babysitting issues, my little sister, Chhayal, stepped up and she agreed to “hold my hand” (haha!)
Takeaway: Take someone you are comfortable with. They will be able to keep you calm, help you work with your nervous and make you feel more relaxed.
2 | Get there early
There is nothing worse than turning up late to find everyone staring at you. So I made a point of getting to the CDAs early, settling in, and just being “around” to see if I could spot any familiar faces.
Takeaway: It’s easier when there are fewer people in the room to get comfortable so it’s always a good idea to arrive on time or earlier. Give yourself a few minutes to compose yourself.
3 | Think of some questions
I thought up 3/4 questions and kept these in mind for when we arrived at the venue. I didn’t want to freeze if and when I was approached by someone and so having some backup questions was really handy!
Takeaway: Thinking of these beforehand, will help any awkward silences, my “go to” lines were:
“Hi! I’m Krishna of Krishna Solanki Designs, what’s your name?” - Stating both my name and company opens up the reply for them to answer who they are and what company they represent.
“Hello! Where are you sitting?” - You would need to be near a table seating plan or something similar for this.
“Hi, wow. Lots of people here tonight, are you here as a sponsor or finalist?”
My fail safe questions was always something related to the weather - “Gosh, it's cold outside now!”, or the travel time “How far have you travelled this evening? I’m only XX minutes drive away”
4 | Ask questions about their services
Something I noticed during the course of the CDAs evening was people are always happy to talk about themselves. So by focusing on asking about their services, or their business, you will be able to take the pressure off yourself. I started doing this after meeting a few people and noticed it went really well. It also opens up the door to be asked the same question back, so if you have reservations about “selling your services” or talking about yourself, then this is always a great way to start the conversation.
5 | Practice your one-liner/elevator pitch
I rehearsed my introduction many many times before the event. I made sure it was informative, precise, and easy to understand. The last thing you want is to fumble over your words trying to describe yourself and your business. I actually practised on Chhayal and Anil so that I was comfortable repeating it to anyone else.
Takeaway: The more comfortable you are having those conversations the easier it will become. Practising and perfecting what you will say when someone asks you saves you from staring blankly. My one-liner was along the lines of “Hi, I'm Krishna Solanki, of Krishna Solanki Designs - I know, bit of a mouthful - I design strong brands and beautiful websites for startups and small businesses” (I do also try and squeeze in a little bit about being able to design mobile app, icons, and print collateral as well, and even my Printables Etsy shop but usually add this on depending on who I am talking too).
6 | Buffer in self-care time in before and after
I knew from the very beginning that the CDAs awards ceremony was in the evening and so I made sure I prepared during the day to make sure I took it easy on myself and did what I needed to help me feel good. And by that I mean, I pampered myself a little! Some much-needed self-care is so important at the best of times, so this was extra special.
Takeaway: Do what you have to make sure you are not rushed or stressed. Finish work early, take a few hours off, take a long hot shower to relax.
7 | Be genuine and authentic
Most people are in the same boat. They are there knowing that it is a chance to network with other like-minded people in the same industry. It’s key to remember to be yourself.
I went to the CDAs with an open mind and knowing I was nervous, anxious and new to the scene. I think it was pretty clear by my face that I was lost at times, but that’s ok. Being able, to be honest about that and share my feelings about it built trust - with the other attendees, finalists and also myself.
Takeaway: Be genuine and authentic in your approach, or when you ask someone questions. It’s about building trust not selling yourself.
8 | Smile
A smile can go a long way. Being approachable and starting a great conversation with someone else in the room can be done with as little as a smile. I had a nervous smile… it still helped as it sparked a few conversations.
Takeaway: Make sure you do things as simple as smiling!
9 | Use social media
Chances are that the event you are attending will be on some form of social media. I found the CDAs on Twitter and Instagram and started following them quite early on, however, as the awards ceremony got closer I started using the hashtag they created for the event. I noticed they retweeted me a few times and it also helped me to connect with other attendees.
Takeaway: Making a few connections before the event will help you feel more comfortable when you arrive. You can look out for these new connections and start a conversation - which you would have prepared for!
10 | Enjoy yourself
The main thing I remember of attending the CDAs was that it was great fun. It was a fab evening networking and it was a great moment seeing my small side hustle business up on the big screen. I was epically gutted to not have won anything but none the less I was proud of where I was and how far my branding and website design side hustle business has come.
Takeaway: Don’t be too hard on yourself, and enjoy the moment
I really hope you find these takeaway tips useful. Are you an introvert? Have you struggled with networking?