Are you trying to network and get hired for a new job? Here are networking practices that let you be yourself—while still making the most of every situation.

Let’s be honest, networking can feel awkward. Whether you’re the person who is pumped to meet new people, or the one standing in the corner of the room avoiding everyone’s gaze, there’s a lot to accomplish in a short period of time. Add in actually trying to be yourself while making a valuable first impression, and the task can seem daunting to anyone.

Fortunately, I’ve put myself through every awkward networking setting so you don’t have to. I work with a team of other communication coaches, and together we’ve seen a lot and worked with people from every field imaginable. From blue-collar to blue scrubs, warehouses to the White House, every profession requires some degree of networking. I’m happy to tell you that not only are there ways to network successfully without losing your soul, there’s also a way to enjoy yourself in the process!

Set a realistic goal

A real networking opportunity comes from making a meaningful connection or having an engaging conversation.

Ask yourself: “What’s my goal for this evening?”

Have a realistic expectation and determine an achievable goal for yourself.

I recommend clients start with a goal of networking with two people. Decide that you’ll approach and communicate with at least two people; this leaves time for those two interactions to be longer and more rewarding.

Setting realistic goals keeps you relaxed and takes away the pressure to achieve as many interactions as possible. The truth is more interactions don’t equate to quality networking.

Learn nonverbal basics

Your mindset is the biggest indicator of how a networking event or interaction will go for you. It takes four seconds for people to make a judgment on someone’s appearance and seven seconds to make a judgment on someone’s speech. Don’t let these numbers scare you. Whatever you project is entirely within your control.

Let’s start with physical appearance. Other than wearing an appropriate outfit for the environment, our body language is the first assessment people can make of who we are. Make sure your body is saying what you want it to. Think about your strengths and let those confident thoughts open your body language.

Appearing closed up, your arms folded, eyes cast downward, and a lack of facial expression tells people that your mind is just as closed. Nobody wants to approach a person who looks miserable or is sending the nonverbal message that communicating with him or her would be a lot of work. Now that we’re clear on what not to do, let’s talk about best body language practices.

Be conscious of your facial expressions

Facial expressions are the first physical cues people react to in conversation. Having a pleasant resting face and the ability to make eye contact is important. That said, looking around with a smile plastered across your face can look and feel forced, and it’s been shown that people can differentiate between real and fake smiles. So find a happy and sincere neutral facial expression that you can practice.

Imagine you’re talking to a friend you’re comfortable with, whose company you really enjoy. Practice the facial expressions, eye contact, and smile you would give them in conversation. At a networking event, look around the room as though you’re seeing a bit of that friend in each new acquaintance. This will naturally re-activate the positive physiological responses and facial expressions that you would have with your friend.

Practice good posture

Your posture indicates your willingness to jump in and participate in a conversation. Improving your posture by opening your chest, dropping your shoulders, and lifting your head toward the ceiling (while keeping your chin down) affects both you and how others see you. Standing with good posture, for even just two minutes, raises testosterone levels and decreases cortisol. So what does this mean for you? Your body quite literally becomes more confident and calmer. Be the person with a smile, strong posture, and good eye contact. This will lead you to a positive connection with someone new.

Remember the three Ws

This may seem obvious, but leading the conversation with something you have in common is the ideal. Finding commonalities, however small you may perceive them to be, opens the door to more meaningful conversations. When I’m working with clients, there’s a simple and very effective method I use to help people focus their energy and feel confident in making the first move. I like to call it “going for the three Ws.”

Ask yourself:

  • “Where am I?”
  • “What do I have in common with this person?”
  • “What can I say?”

First, let’s address the where: Are you inside or outside? Are you with a meet-up group, at a bar, or at a business luncheon?

Next, if you take a second to think about where you are, it immediately gives you information for what you have in common with everyone there. You might all be taking in the same amazing view, or sweating under the same intense sun. Additionally, somehow you all got there, perhaps everyone walked up the same rickety steps, or trudged through the same snowy path, or sat in the same traffic jam.

Last, what are you going to say? Once you’ve nailed down where you are and what you have in common with others sharing the event space, taking the next step, deciding what to say, becomes much more attainable. What you say can relate to anything you have in common. If you see someone enjoying hors d’oeuvres, you can immediately lead with something relating to that (such as how delicious they are)!

The possibilities are endless once you become comfortable working with the three Ws. It can even be an entertaining personal challenge.

Utilizing and practicing these simple techniques will have you ready to rub elbows with any crowd. In the end, it all comes down to knowing yourself and being you.

Happy networking!

Kyle Zamcheck is a coach and trainer with the international firm The Speech Improvement Company. With a background in psychology and intergroup dialogue, Kyle works with clients to help them strengthen their communication effectiveness. Hailing from Boston and residing in Austin, Texas, Kyle is learning the art of the southern twang and wearing great cowboy boots.

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