Simple steps to boost your confidence!

Want to be a successful networker, but can't pluck up the courage to enter the room? No problem! Business psychologist Sue Firth reveals her tried-and-tested ways to increase your confidence

By Sue Firth

Firstly, it pays to realise that many people don’t enjoy networking! They associate it with a negative experience and they put themselves off before really starting. I, too, have been to various business meetings which ended in tight cliques, and where I’ve been unable to penetrate any group of people. I, of course, blamed myself for being useless. In fact, there’s no way of knowing whether it was me, something I did or didn’t say, or whether they were just enjoying meeting each other again.

One thing is for certain, though, networking involves coming out of your comfort zone. The comfort zone may be easier for us, but pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone, and testing ourselves through a multitude of experiences, actually strengthens our confidence. If you acknowledge that being out of your comfort zone is necessary for the process of learning, and you go along to meetings, you must be prepared to accept this.

Secondly, don't be put off by the term: networking is just talking. It isn’t about being clever or competing. People want to know who you are and what you do, and they are not there to judge you.

Listening is key
Thirdly, don’t go to win business. That’s "taking" from the experience and it won’t actually win you many friends! We’ve all been in the room with salespeople who spend all their time telling you what they do and not listening to anything. Listen intently; remember people’s names by repeating them fairly quickly and appropriately within the first couple of minutes of being introduced, and ask them questions about what they do.

So, all being well, the person you’re talking to will soon repeat this favour, turning to you for an idea of what you do. Have a few lines that you’ve prepared ready to go. Speak as naturally as you can and remember not to make a "shut down" statement.

What’s a "shut down" statement? It’s saying something that's a real conversation-stopper, like, “I sell sports equipment.” The inclination should be to ask, “Who to?”, but all too often the response will be just “Oh”. I used to say, “I’m a psychologist who trains and coaches people”, but there is no further development from that really. You’d have to be interested in psychology to progress that, so it’s better to think about how you benefit people and weave that in.

For example “I’m a psychologist who teaches people how to be more powerful by influencing others better. The benefit of this is that people build confidence quickly and get promoted more easily.” Now the listener feels invited to comment and hopefully prompted to ask more questions, e.g. “Who is this for?” or “How does that work?” You then have the opportunity to elaborate. And suddenly you're feeling more comfortable with both the conversation and the networking process.

Practice makes perfect
A golden rule is: practise! The aim is not to waffle. Starting well but losing confidence because you haven’t prepared a follow-up, is a shame because you’ll blame yourself for the lost opportunity. (And you may perpetuate your myth that you're not very good at "the networking thing").

There is no harm in rehearsing what you want to say about yourself. Practise in front of the mirror for an extra boost – you may feel silly, but you are trying to see yourself from the receiver’s viewpoint. It's important to smile, look natural, and pay attention to your body language, so as not to be too tense or stiff.

To recap then… to build your confidence to network: plan what you want to say about yourself, make sure it reflects what you do, how you benefit people and the difference you make. Tell yourself it isn’t a race, you’re not competing, merely talking. And remember, it is about making new acquaintances, not being on trial, and absolutely not being scared!

Sue Firth is a leading business psychologist whose prime interest areas for women are stress management and self-esteem/confidence boosting. She regularly runs open seminars entitled "Power and Influence for Success" and the next ones will take place on 29th September, 27th October and 24th November in Surrey. For more information, call 01483 270 470 or e-mail or visit

Plus! Don't miss Sue's excellent article on influencing skills at now!

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