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5 Steps to Master Networking Skills and Perfect Your Personal Branding

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5 Steps to Master Networking Skills and Perfect Your Personal Branding

The phrases “personal branding” and “networking skills” make a lot of people cringe. It’s often associated with being sleazy and ingenuine, with the main goal being wriggling your way into the “inner circle” for your own selfish reasons.

Leaving aside the nasty reputation, networking—if it’s based on building genuine relationships—is one of the most powerful tools for personal brands.

First of all, hanging out with the crowd in your industry is important for being able to learn from the best—knowledge sharing is one of the most powerful ways for everyone to succeed.

Networking is also a great way to get yourself associated and on the radar with other professionals—not just because, but for establishing useful partnerships and cooperation.

There is definitely a subtle art behind successful and authentic networking. Besides the work that goes into figuring out your motives, finding your approach, and creating compelling conversations, a lot of hard effort needs to go into maintaining the relationships you form too.

Today, we’re going to share five tips for polishing your public relationships skills, and maintaining your connections.

1. Figure Out Your “Why?”

Like we said in the intro, the word “networking” tends to have a bad reputation, so you need to make sure that your motives for wanting to network don’t align with that nasty label.

Before you start taking any other steps, you need to understand what networking really means—especially for you personally.

What’s your ultimate goal with trying to make connections with other people in your industry or area? Why are you doing it?

Are you mainly trying to initiate knowledge sharing and learning from others? Are you looking to maybe start cooperating or working with these people? Are you looking for business partners or investors?

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You need to have a very clear understanding of why you want to start getting into networking, rather “just because” or “it’d be fun”. This will help you pick your strategies and make sure you have the right approach.

Even though, like we said, networking needs to be based on genuinely, there are still different initial “pitches” you need to make—even just to start a conversation. You don’t have to sell yourself by any means, but knowing what you’re after will help you set the right tone from the get go.

Just trying to make a light connection with someone whose work you admire is very different from starting a conversation with someone you hope will invest in your business.

So, before you jump into any action, figure out your “why” and think about how that would set the tone for your communication.

2. Do Your Research

Once you’ve figured out what your end goal or main interests are for getting into the networking world, it’s time to really do your homework about the people or companies you’d like to get in touch with.

You might think that you know a lot about them already, but there’s most likely things you haven’t discovered yet.

Take your time and make sure you’re really familiar with everything they’ve done. Go into detail too—the more specifics you know about them and their work, the easier it will be for you to connect.

You might even find things that you have in common that you didn’t know about. For example, check out their social media profiles. Maybe they tweet about cats as much as you do!

Even if there really isn’t a single thing you’ve missed in your previous knowledge about them, you can still refresh your memory. Read their content again, listen to their podcast, look at their designs—whatever area they’re in.

If you’ve been keeping an eye on them for a longer time, you’ll be looking at their work with a fresh set of eyes, and might even have a different attitude towards it.

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Having intimate knowledge about the people who you’re going to attempt to connect with will give you a lot of topics to discuss, ask about, and connect over.

3. Be Human

There’s a good chance that the people you want to network with already have a crowd circling around them, trying to do the same.

This might not be the case, but even then, make sure to keep your human-ness in any contact.

Don’t put on a mask, or try to come across as something or someone you’re not. Even if you’re not dealing with people who have thousands of others trying to connect with them, most “regular” people can still tell when you’re being fake.

Try to not treat anyone like a business contact from the get go. It usually comes across as cold, impersonal, and rigid. Even worse, it sends an immediate signal that you’re up to no good and in it only for your own causes.

Networking shouldn’t be about using people, it should be about helping each other and sharing experiences and knowledge.

Rather than just handing off a business card, a much better way to go is to make a light, friend-like connection, literally. When you’re making your contact, think about how you would approach a potential friend!

Don’t start any of your conversations with “so how about that giant funding your company got yesterday?”, start with “I saw on your LinkedIn profile that you’re big on surfing—mind giving me some tips?”—you get the gist.

As your conversations go further, you’ll find the time to talk about work. Everything at its own, appropriate time!

And who knows, you might actually end up being best buddies.

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4. Know Your Boundaries

This should go without saying, but know your limits.

Sometimes, connections just don’t happen, no matter how much you’ve worked on your skills or thought it’ll be the most amazing networking experience you’ll ever have.

If it’s not happening, it’s not happening, and you need to let it go. Nobody likes pushy people. If you find out your interests aren’t aligned, the conversation isn’t flowing, or the connection just isn’t there, don’t pursue it. Walk away. Don’t be rude about it, but just walk away.

Think of it kind of like dating, some dates just don’t work out. Not that anyone did anything wrong, but the alignment just isn’t there, and trying to push it isn’t beneficial to either side.

To avoid wasting your time as well as other people’s, it’s best to exit conversations that aren’t a good match sooner rather than later. This will give you the opportunity to go and connect with someone you’re a great fit with.

5. Keep In Touch

We all know how hard it is to keep in touch with people who aren’t immediate family or very close friends.

Time goes by, we’re all busy, past contact is forgotten; it happens.

The key to keeping relationships alive is keeping the conversation going. You’ve connected with people that you admire and want to learn from, right?

So, keep an eye on what they do, what they say, and what they’re up to. Start a conversation when they do something awesome—write a good post, launch a product, whatever it is that you’re excited about on their behalf.

Remind yourself every now and then. Reply to their tweet, leave a comment on their content, send them a postcard—whatever. Don’t be worried about being annoying.

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Here’s what Alex Turnbull, CEO of Groove, has to say about following up in his article about how networking can help you succeed in life and business:[1]

“A lot of people are hesitant to follow up because they think they’re being annoying. But consider this: what if you’re not being annoying? What if you’re actually being helpful?”

So make sure you include your experiences as well, something that could help them. Work on making your relationships meaningful ones, with a lot of mutual learning involved.

Did they just announce they’re writing a book? Send an email telling them about the awesome editing tool you just found.

If you know you tend to be forgetful when it comes to keeping relationships, make a physical note to do so. Have a weekly planner? Jot down “shoot John an email” or “recommend this app to Susan.”

Mastering Personal Branding Is an Art and a Science

Even though it has the unfortunate reputation, building public relationships doesn’t have to be evil or ingenuine.

As long as you understand that successful networking is built on creating real, genuine, mutual relationships, it can be an incredible tool for learning, connecting, knowledge sharing, and business opportunities if you want them.

Take your time, figure out your end goal of why you want to start getting around more, make sure you’re connecting on the right foundations, and keep the conversation going—even if you have to teach yourself to do it.

Even if you don’t 100% get to your end goal, deliberate networking is still a surefire way to create great relationships that can be helpful when you least expect it!

More Resources About Networking & Work Communication

Featured photo credit: Antenna via unsplash.com

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Dmitry Dragilev

Single-handedly grew a startup from zero to 40 million page views, Dmitry is a role model for aspiring entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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