I’ve never been a gym person and I always dread going. Something about all of the people, foreign machines and awkward eye contact just intimidates me. What’s funny is that the same daunting questions I ask myself before I go are often times similar to those I asked when I first started attending networking events: Why does it feel like everyone already knows each other? Who/What should I approach first? What if I do something that makes me look dumb? How do I know when I should move on to something else?

However, with time I’ve learned that both networking and working out are important to achieving my personal and professional goals. So, instead of addressing these two situations separately, here are six ways they are similar along with tips for how to make them a more successful experience.

Like toned muscles and physical strength, interpersonal skills do not come naturally.

Personal computers have changed our lives in countless ways. While many of these have been overwhelmingly positive, it’s come at the cost of deteriorating our interpersonal skills and active lifestyles. Social skills and core strength are not something we’re born with, and spending quality time with our computer screens isn’t the best way to develop them. Like most abilities, they require practice, and an isolated lifestyle is not going to help develop those networking muscles. So get out there! Join a club, go to events, join a sports team. These are easy beginner ways to get involved while meeting people with a focus on activities that bring you together.

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at first.

When walking into a room full of strangers, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. Between worrying about how to act appropriately at first approach and blindly navigating situational etiquette, how can you avoid looking like a newbie? We’ve all been there. Just remember not to interrupt intense conversation and to stay positive during this learning curve. If nothing else, fake it until you figure things out!

Once you make it more routine, you’ll start to enjoy it.

Pushing yourself to go is the first and hardest step to overcome. Once it becomes more routine, it’s easy to pick up some solid small talk tips. This will not only make it easier, but you might even find it entertaining as well. Sure, going with a group may help push you into taking that first step, but it’s important to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

YOU need to initiate the action to guarantee success.

15 million Americans are living with some kind of social anxiety, so expecting someone else to always approach you and strike up a conversation is the same as expecting to lose weight by going to the gym for 15 minutes – it’s wishful thinking at best. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, jumping on a machine or introducing yourself to a stranger will help you come across as more confident. There’s nothing wrong with others helping you learn the ropes.

Concentrate on yourself, not your phone.

You’re there to better yourself and improve your relationship with your body or your network. You already made the effort to go, so stop acting so important and leave your phone in your bag.

Leave on a high note.

If you leave and haven’t made yourself or someone else feel good about themselves, you probably wasted your time and will get nothing from it. People are more likely to remember the way you made them feel than what you added to the conversation. This is similar to how your muscles physically remind you the day after a strenuous workout.

The most important thing to remember while improving yourself both personally and professionally is that you’re going to get as much out of it as you put in. Don’t let the fear of being outside of your comfort zone limit your exposure to new opportunities; instead try to recognize what you can adjust to make the situation less intimidating. Just like fitness centers, not all networking opportunities are the same. Find one that fits your preferences and test the waters. You never know what exciting possibilities may turn up at the cocktail table or bench press.

Kristina Norris
Learning & Development Coordinator

Photo source: The Daily Pulp

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