Does the mere thought of attending a networking function tie your stomach in knots? You're not alone. Meeting a room of complete strangers, even if you do share interests, can be daunting.
Perhaps it's the label... networking. It sounds so clinical. Why does it need a label anyway? Why not just think of it as meeting new friends in the business. We do that ALL the time, don't we? We meet new colleagues, new agents, new brokers. Each new contact expands our network. What if we approached these events like we were meeting new contacts, new colleagues, or new friends? Does that feel less daunting?
Many professional organizations hold mixers for their members to meet each other and mingle. Some groups have great leaders who make an effort to meet newcomers and make them feel welcome; others don't. You may have to try a few before you find the right fit, but do keep trying. You may even drag a colleague along for moral support, but make a pact that you will encourage each other to meet new people at the event. Set a goal to meet and exchange cards with 3 new contacts. If you attend one event each month you'll net 36 new contacts each year!
If a mixer isn't your style, see if your local professional organization has a Speakers' Series. That limits the mixing to about 30 minutes and then the onus is on the speaker. Chat up folks. Exchange cards. Make notes.
Once the event is over, thank your host. Offer a compliment about the event.
That evening or the next day, shoot off a few emails to the contacts you made. The big idea is to make new contacts within your field, not land a job. So tell the person it was great to meet them at the event, mention something you took note on (congratulations on your new job, hope your cat didn't get too upset that you went out last night, the name of the wine we were talking about is ...) and that you look forward to meeting them again at the next event. (Now, you're committed. Someone is looking for you.) You could even ask your new contacts to get involved too! Make a sort of 'networking game'? and agree to introduce each other to at least one new person each time you meet at an event.
Change your focus from 'networking'? to 'building relationships'? and the rewards will follow.