How to tackle Virtual Networking Imposter Syndrome

How to tackle Virtual Networking Imposter Syndrome

In a world that is increasingly online, there is a new networking normal appearing, one that demands us to be present on screen and confident under the new “lights, camera, record” of video conferencing.

70% of people experience imposter syndrome it is claimed but it’s not just confined to successful, highly-driven, entrepreneurial people and it is also a behavioural trait that transcends gender.
Imposter syndrome is defined as being an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy and not feeling that you deserve the success you achieve. It manifests in many forms, from perfectionism to self-doubt, self-sabotage and negative self-talk.

Translated across into the networking arena, the exact same behaviours of self-questioning and confidence can exist, whether or not you are on or offline.

  • Will I look and sound professional?
  • Will I fluff my intro?
  • Will I be liked, respected, believed, taken as credible, remembered?
  • Will I be able to small talk?
  • Will I be able to break into conversation circles? Or worse, get out of them if I’m stuck with a networking arxe?

For some people, networking on screen via social media or by joining events presents an easier and more time-efficient option than its historical counterpart – the physical event – where you had to travel to an event then spend hours encountering strangers and enduring sometimes awkward small talk.

For others, the magnification of on-screen presence, the exhausting concentration required by attendees cooped up in little squares or bubbles, and the juggling of technology with its time delays presents interesting, challenging and of course amusing dynamics.

At physical events, some folk loved the crowds and the noise. Some hid behind the coffee station. Similarly online, some folk love the focus of the webcam and numbers. Others hide behind screens and switch off the video.

Is it a question of personality, introvert or extrovert tendencies, confidence and self-belief?
Is virtual networking imposter syndrome even a thing?
And how do you combat it if it is does exist?

What current challenges does networking online present?

However we felt before, lacking or brimming with confidence, there’s no doubt that everything is now magnified and we have other work-life pressures on top to impact our mindset and confidence levels.

For some, networking events are more intense on zoom. We’re exposed in little celebrity squares and virtual bubbles with intermittent pauses, technical connectivity and delay issues, apologies, interruptions in our home environment, and no real body language to gap fill the gaps and provide social interaction and connection.

For social networking, posting and viewing times have shifted. Initially whilst many adapted and even still whilst many are still our furlough (or worse), many small businesses have told me they feel their audience had gone or that no one seems to be listening and engaging anymore.

Once we had choice where we networked – on or offline.
Now it’s all online.

It’s evidently accelerated our technical upskilling which is an amazing benefit but networking isn’t just about mechanical and technical ability, it’s about mindset and confidence too.

We’re trying to balance sensitivity and added value whilst existing commercially too.

Familiar faces no longer exist in our ‘comfortable’ circles. Some on furlough or made redundant can’t network right now. Some don’t want to network online or don’t feel its right to network right now and aren’t in the mood or don’t know what to say.

At a time when we’re already questioning our value and purpose as workers, parents, friends, partners, employees and employers, we’re overwhelmed with a smorgasbord of online events, distracted by what others are doing, unsure if folk still need what we offer, and if they’re still buying.

Networking online comes with new behavioural nuances to understand and salesy behaviour is even more relegated than it ever was.

So how do we combat virtual networking imposter syndrome?

Do you fake it till you make it or do you prepare and network in the way you always should have – as humans, with flaws, with honesty and worries, responsibly and with the intent of building relationships.

Confidence tips in a new world of virtual networking

There are too many networking tips to include everything in one short article but let’s start with a handful of practical and mechanical tips and then throw in some mindset and confidence advice too.

1. Know your Networking Why – just like physical events, you need to prepare your why, what, when, where who & how. Undertake a priorities exercise – what do you enjoy, what people need/want, what earns you a living.

2. Research and Prepare – check out the format, size, visibility, activities; try before you buy, mystery shop, attend with someone else. Most events follow a similar pattern – Arrival/login/small chat, event content, discussion/deeper chat, round up, follow up

3. Get organised – file joining info, warm up your voice, streamline what tech you use & how, practice with friends & family, arrive in time, prepare your screen/mic/camera, open the chat/participants, mute, plan what you say (keep text notes handy)

4. Social Profile Consistency – use settings as anchor points to improve your digital footprint eg. same picture, id yourself, help yourself to be “Known” and remembered (ref. KLT Factor, Know-Like-Trust)

5. Respect the laws of networking – don’t sell, respect the ideal numbers, pause, listen, raise hand, add chat at the right moment, and follow up with 121s and virtual coffees. KIT (Keeping In Touch) counts for everything in relationship building.

6. Human equality – networking just like humanity is a level playing field (people not titles), make business friends, ice-break, we’re all there to network. Be the best version of yourself. Remember that no one can see sweaty hands or brows. Separate feelings from fact.

7. Reset expectations of self and others – People may not be buying right now. Networking is now support, connection, learning. Less can be more. Select contacts to connect, chat or virtual coffee with. A full room score is not networking good-practice.

8. Survey and assess the (virtual) room – Have a response plan – distance self from negative thoughts or people, step away from the noise and be wary of what physical or social media groups you hang out in and any overwhelm they may place on you.

9. Tribes/Networks/Clubs/Buddies – Know your onions – ie tribe – and have several for different reasons in business & in life. Talk to people, ask for help. Get a networking buddy or a leader who cares.

10. Be accessible and consistently visible – connect before, after and between events. It will give you personal belonging and human connection. Virtual cuppas create bonds.

11. Balance stepping outside comfort zone with finding comfortable events/groups. Put on your big girl/boy pants. Now is a great time to make mistakes because everyone is. Reframe how you feel and embrace failure as learning

12. Visualise (networking) confidence – where were you, what happened, how did you feel.

13. Balance modesty and humility with praise for yourself – Internalise your achievements: use Weekly Wins, journaling, gratitude diaries, personal SWOT, asking for 360 feedback

14. Self-Belief – ignore the networking chimp, the neg ferrets, the views of judgement and remember you are not competing with anyone. Don’t sweat the small stuff, recognise your feelings and nerves, break negative self-talk. Then: Just do it. Try it. Like it. Benefit from it.

Above all in networking, whether it is a physical or an online event, people may be there for different reasons with very conflicting Networking Why’s. Networking is about finding that common connection and in its most basic form it is often made more comfortable if it’s viewed simply as making business friends. Working out the synergy and mutual benefits between attendees and understanding that, like any friendship, to move forward it must be founded on respect of diverse opinion and needs. In so doing, you’ll then keep any networking imposter syndrome at bay by combining the right mechanics and a confident and ‘I know exactly why I’m here’ mindset.

By Kirsty James, Owner, Colony Networking

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Kirsty James is a business consultant who offers networking strategy and skills training, business development planning, idea generation, brokering connections and signposting to suitable business support groups and local events. She also run Colony Networking events in Warrington, Liverpool,Chester, Newton, and Alderley Edge, co-hosts #LinkedInLocal in Manchester and Warrington, is curator for TEDx Warrington, and assists third parties to organise their own lead generation events and workshops.

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