3 Obstacles to Networking as a Thought Leader, and How to Overcome Them

Thought leaders need to be able to network in order to be successful, but there are several obstacles that get in the way of networking. If you are feeling awkward or scared in a room, do your best to smile and remember you have a goal.

Your goal is to make connections and grow your network, which in turn should directly connect to your revenue sources and business model. If you think of networking as part of growing your personal brand, you can overcome some of the obstacles you face.

Still, these obstacles exist. In this article, we’ll look at how to overcome a few of them.

Obstacle #1: Imposter Syndrome and FOMO

people-at-networking-eventI often hear people talking about FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out), as well as imposter syndrome. Both have something in common: they are rooted in a lack of confidence or a lack of targeting, strategic planning, and goals. If you are fully confident in yourself and your plans, then you can take a conscious step back. You can put things into context and remind yourself why you are where you are.

I rarely if ever feel FOMO. Why? I’ve realized our lives are made up of a sum of our choices, and if we have opportunities, it is probably because we worked to create the environment for them. For anything I’ve ever wanted to do, I just reversed engineered that goal to create a path I could follow to achieve it.

If there is something you feel you want to be a part of, use that as a goal, reverse engineer it, and get yourself there. If you have strong foundational goals, create a road map to success, and know what you need to do to get there, then FOMO goes away.

It is frequently cited that 70% of people feel imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. Even lifelong learners can still suffer from imposter syndrome. Often, it’s actually those who are extremely equipped and knowledgeable that still suffer from feeling like they aren’t good enough, or shouldn’t share what they share or charge what they do.

When you feel this way, take a deep breath and remind yourself of your expertise and all the hard work you’ve put in. It’s so easy to forget and to doubt ourselves.

I avoid feeling imposter syndrome because I am always intentional and strategic in my choices and goals. Because I have planned out my goals and the road map to them, I know every room I’m in, I’ve earned it. And I have the spreadsheets, documents, receipts, and completed hard work to prove it.

You can avoid imposter syndrome in a similar way; strategically go after what you want. Invest time, money, and hard work to execute successfully. When you do things with intention, you know everything you’ve accomplished has required real effort, and you earned it.

Obstacle #2: Haters and Competition

One obstacle you will face is actually a simple reality: not everyone will like you. Sometimes, that’s a tough pill to swallow. I can guarantee you that the more well-known you are, the more haters you will attract. They will always find ways to call you out.

In fact, if some people aren’t upset with you, your message may not be unique enough and you may be playing it too safe. Your fundamental truth needs to be something you believe that others may not yet believe. If everyone agrees with you, you don’t have a unique platform. Celebrate that the impact you have is enough to create haters at all!

Unless you are generally not a good person and treat others badly, most of the time, people will dislike you because of what you do that they can see and hear.

They may not even know you personally. Some that do know you personally may be haters because seeing your success or impact may bring out feelings of jealousy, unhappiness, or fear. The way a hater treats you is always a reflection of their own insecurities. Happy, secure, accomplished people don’t push others down, or hate, or attack, or cause negative drama. They just don’t. We know there are much better ways to spend our time than feeling negative emotions or hurting others.

There will always be room for a little, if not a lot, of drama if you let it into your life. So, don’t let it in. The only thing you can do is ignore the haters and not engage with them, respond to them, or interact in any way. Know that arguing is not worth your time and walk away. That is the only way you can successfully deal with people like this.

A rational conversation never convinces haters. The only thing you can control is how you react and your own emotions. You don’t need to absorb their negativity; it will only bring you down. Take the high road, ignore them, and don’t look back. They will eventually get tired of insulting you or thinking about you and go away.

In other words – Don’t play their game; play yours.

On the other hand, when thinking about potential competitors, I believe that a high tide raises all boats. There are always enough clients and customers to go around.

I purposefully partner with my competitors, and together we raise each other up. Individually it’s easier to fail, but together, it is easier to succeed. Competition is just market validation in the world of thought leadership.

Unlike big purchases, like a car, which are made only every few years, if that, what you are selling as a thought leader are ideas, packaged up around your personality and belief system. That is 100% unique to you.  No matter what market you’re in, there is always room for a lot of thought leaders, because there is a lot of appetite for content, and as one person, you can’t produce enough content to meet the demand of any niche.

Offer to partner in some way with your competitors. If you live your life as a giver, you will get back more from the world, and sometimes in surprising ways.

Obstacle #3: Social Anxiety

According to CNN, an estimated 12% of all US adults experience social anxiety disorder at some time in their life. That means more than one out of every ten people in that room with you have had social anxiety disorder. While 12% experience an actual disorder, 100% of us feel nervous at times, especially when entering new social environments. Introverts have to put in a little extra effort to overcome this anxiety. 

I’ve heard neuroscientists theorize that throughout evolution, being accepted into a group was paramount to survival, while being cast out and alone meant death. So when entering a room where you don’t know anyone and they all seem to know each other, you could be tapping into that evolutionary fear that kept your ancestors alive.

If you find yourself in this situation, remind yourself of this potential theory. By assigning a reason for your nerves, you can more easily tap the nervousness down.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum when it comes to anxiety, setting simple, achievable goals can be beneficial. You don’t have to build a massive network at the beginning.

Set small goals that add up. If you are an introvert, plan on meeting and exchanging business cards with two people—and then you’re done for that day. At your next event, aim to meet three people. At the next one, take that up to four or five.

You’ll feel like it’s a huge win every time you achieve or surpass your goal for the day.

One great way to train yourself to be more outgoing and less shy while networking is through improv classes. Certain classes specialize in reducing social anxiety. They provide a safe, judgment-free learning experience.

One thing you learn in improv is how to be a star active listener. As an active listener, you can reflect another person’s words and body language. You know how to repeat back for clarification, which helps make conversations all about the other person.

Another great tool great for both introverts and extroverts is having a wing man that you can meet or bring with you to events. The two of you support each other.

I’m an extreme extrovert, but I still frequently have a networking partner in crime. My neighbor Silvia Console Battilana, who I live next door to by design, is also an extreme extrovert. We work together to network effectively, efficiently, and with the highest ROI, taking into account each other’s business goals. We make a fantastic team and are better together than alone. Who can you bring to your next networking opportunity?

Keep in mind that networking can also be accomplished online. Reply to all comments you receive, unless they’re spam or unprovoked cruelty. Comment on other people’s posts, articles, and videos. Share their posts, congratulate their accomplishments, and participate in discussions they begin. Interact with what they share in some way. By doing so, you can continue to network without ever leaving your computer.

This was adapted from The Thought Leader Formula. For more advice on successful networking, you can find The Thought Leader Formula on Amazon.

Robin Farmanfarmaian

Robin Farmanfarmaian

Robin Farmanfarmaian (https://www.robinff.com/) is author of The Thought Leader Formula. She’s a professional speaker, entrepreneur, and angel investor, focusing on cutting-edge healthcare and biotech companies poised to impact 100M patients.

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