As a public speaking coach, I work a lot with clients who want to learn how to create and deliver a brilliant presentation; or to nail their next interview; or confidently deliver a best man’s speech.

But I also get a approached by people who want to improve their general communication skills. They get nervous talking to people in professional and social situations – self-conscious, tongue tied and awkward, they feel they can’t communicate in the way they want to.

And this is holding them back. They start avoiding situations where they know they’ll have to face this fear.

If you’re a business owner, or an ambitious professional, you must be able to talk to people. Networking events are one example of a great opportunity to get yourself out there, make connections and build relationships… but for a lot of people, they’re a nightmare.

Here are some things you can do to take control and stop letting your fear get the better of you.

1. Prepare.

Think about the types of people that will be there, and plan your introduction with them in mind. If you have a great opening sentence when people introduce themselves to you, and practise delivering it with a confident handshake, a warm smile and natural eye contact, you’ll feel so much less uncertain.This opening sentence must be a hook, to make them want to learn more about how they can use your service.

2. Warm up.

It never fails to amaze me that people don’t take time to shift gear between settings. Before you head into the event, take a moment to pause. Head to the loo and practise some deep breathing; warm up your body with a few stretches and shoulder rolls. Adopt a confident body language, with your head up, shoulders back, and a warm and relaxed smile. Oh, and if it’s a breakfast meeting, have a good sing in the shower before you go – no croaky greetings please, which is what will happen if you haven’t uttered a word before you arrive!

3. Eye contact is everything.

Would you buy a car from a salesperson who couldn’t meet your eye? Would you want to learn more about someone who was looking over your shoulder? No? Why not? Because they don’t look trustworthy. Or perhaps they look bored. Eye contact is an essential part of our communication, and another important way to shift your focus from you, and your nerves, to the person you’re speaking to.

4. It’s not about you!

Remember: it’s about the how you can help them, not about showboating. “I’m Anna, and I’m a public speaking coach, so I help people who want to learn to be brilliant, confident speakers”. Shifting your focus from “What will I get out of this” to “How can I help them solve a problem” will make you feel far less self-conscious.

5. Get personal.

Don’t be afraid to share something about yourself – interesting hobbies, unusual experiences. Make it positive (don’t complain about the traffic or whinge about pet hates). By taking the conversation beyond “work”, you’re inviting people to connect with you on a human level, making your conversation memorable.

6. Focus on the end game.

Identify what you want to happen as a result of attending the event: do you want to get five new contacts? Speak to ten different people? Have you identified one industry in particular that you want to move in to? Once you’re clear about your objective, you’ll feel focused and enthusiastic, which will come across as positive and exciting for those you meet.

7. Be the Host with the Most.

Get in the mindset of hosting the party – that way, you’ll proactively introduce yourself, connect people with each other, and subconsciously people will start to see you as the one they all want to be near to.

8. Be brave and branch out.

It’s really tempting to meet someone you find easy to talk to and, in your relief, stick with them for the whole event. But be strict with yourself: if the conversation isn’t driving towards your identified goal, be brave enough to move on.

9. Be present.

Presence is about being right there, in that moment, actively listening to people around you. It’s not about waiting to jump in with what you want to say: you must show genuine interest in the person you’re talking to, so that they trust that you careabout them and their story. Once you’ve secured their trust on that level, then they will begin to trust that you have their best interests at heart and may be worth working with.

10. Follow up.

When you meet people, ask for their card – and make sure, a day or two later, you make contact. This might be a short, personalised email, or an invitation to connect on LinkedIn (accompanied by a personalised message). For your own records, keep a file of contacts with a detail about them that’ll help you remember them. In my experience, networking contacts can be slow burners, and it might be months or years before they convert into a “sale”, so nurturing the relationship is really important so that they don’t forget you.

If you’d like to improve your confidence and communication skills so that you feel comfortable in professional and social settings, get in touch to see how I can help.