Anyone who has ever met me will know that I have a passion for musical theatre and perform a couple of times a year usually in a musical. I’m not a shy person. I will get up and sing and dance and usually heckle some wisecrack trying to get a laugh! So why do I find networking so hard?
Over the years, I’ve come to realise that to perform in a musical, chances are I would have rehearsed for months:- perfecting the moves, learning the dialogue, receiving input from a director to get the most from the presentation. However, networking you basically blag it! You are timed adding to the pressure and everyone else looks like they are having a blast and you’re the only nervous one.
So I took the learning from how I prepare for my shows and brought it to the networking arena and I’d like to impart some tips for those who find it so daunting.
- Plan what you are going to say. I have written a blog post on things you could say in your pitch but the most important thing is to ensure it is relevant to that audience and helps them understand your business.
- Write it down either in longhand or bullet point notes, whatever works for your memory. Have it written on a small post-it size paper so that you can hold it in your hand and refer to it but it won’t be covering your face when you talk and you can easily refer to it.
- Practice your pitch and I don’t just mean in the car on the way there! You should practice aloud, standing up. If you just rehearse in your head then you might be put off when you actually stand up in front of people.
- Time your practice speech – if it needs to be 60 seconds then set a stopwatch on your phone. If it goes over time then tweak it so it only includes the key message that you want to get across. Consider shortening it if you’re frightened of the buzzer so you know it’s only 30-50 seconds.
- Ignore the stopwatch person. Sounds cruel I know but what is the worst that is going to happen if you go over time? The last time I saw their hand go up to indicate 60 seconds was up and I completely froze and forgot my lines. The next time I vowed not to pay attention to them. I had timed my speech so I knew it was just at the limit of 60 seconds so I just carried on until the end.
“But I do all that and I just freeze when I’m up there or I forget what I was going to say”.
If that’s you, then I would suggest:
- Get up and smile. Sounds daft, but when you smile you are telling your brain you are happy and you relax. You smile and so the audience smile and instantly are more receptive to what you have to say. If you’re getting up and your heart sinks then your body is going to go into fight or flight mode and this will impact your confidence.
- Read your pitch at first. That way you won’t forget things and a successful pitch will give you confidence each week.
- Speak slowly and clearly. That stopwatch is a nemesis which adds the pressure so people instantly start talking faster and all that does it tie your tongue in knots! When you are presenting to any number of people you need to speak slower than a normal conversation and pronounce your words clearly. You probably need to use a louder voice than you would in everyday language.
- Don’t make direct eye contact. More experienced speakers use this as a good tip to engage their audience, but you can fake it until you feel comfortable doing this. Try and look around the room to include everyone in your talk but look at their forehead. The recipient won’t know the difference and you will keep your focus without being distracted.
- Consider filming a practice pitch. I know that might feel you with dread but I find it’s your own perception of how you come across that sabotages you in the first place. If you can see how you come across you’ll be surprised that although you might have been a bundle of nerves, by reading slowly you give off a confident air and then that will give you more confidence next time.
Even with all my experience, I don’t think I’ll ever be someone that will just get up and loving speaking off the top of my head. But if I can plan and prepare then I should always have something in my back pocket to say should I have to speak about my business. If you’re better on a one to one basis, then think of the 60 seconds as a way for people to come and want to know more information, spark their interest and get them talking to you direct where you feel more comfortable.
If you would like to work with me to improve your performance please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how you can stop dreading this every week.