How To Network
When You Suck At Networking
My partner is great at networking. He’ll walk into a room and seamlessly float in and out of conversations with anyone and everyone. I don’t understand how he does it so easily. Just like he doesn’t understand why I struggle with it so much. It seems to be something that people have, or they don’t.
That said, I have made some incredible friendships from pulling up my socks and going to networking events. I’ve also had conversations with people that lead to valuable opportunities. Unfortunately sometimes the only way you’re going to get those things is by sucking it up, and going to a hideously awkward networking event.
So, here’s some tips, from one awkward person to another, that might help make networking just a tiny bit less painful.
SO MUCH EASIER SAID THAT DONE. But try to keep in mind you’re not trying to defuse a bomb; you’re just talking to people. Though my psychologist once explained why socialising can feel like a life or death situation; because people need people to survive. Hundreds of years ago if we were rejected by our people we’d be eaten by lions and tigers and bears (oh my). So sometimes the less evolved parts of our brain think that rejection leads to actual death.
So deep breaths and try to remember that nobody has ever died from awkward conversations with strangers at networking events… probably.
I’m sorry that is such a cliche, but being you is the easiest thing for you to do. Being someone else is bloody hard to maintain. It’s exhausting. Networking is hard enough without pretending to be someone you’re not. Remember; You don’t have to be universally appealing. Not everyone has to like you (that should be my mantra. I want everyone to like me.) The most important thing is finding your people. So if you’re loud, be loud. If you are shy, be shy. If you make awkward jokes that nobody else gets, keep doing that until you find the people who get you. Because those are the connections you actually want.
Skim The Perimeter
I feel like this is the kind of thing that people who are good at networking would advise against. They’re all “Just walk confidently into the middle of the room and start introducing yourself!” (Like it’s THAT easy!) But I’ve found the great benefit of being a bit of a wallflower is generally the people you’ll meet on the outskirts of the room are also somewhat shy and reserved. And I feel more at ease talking to the people who are just as nervous as I am.
Also, I’ve noticed the people who organised the event tend to stand back and observe. And if networking is important to you, the people who organise networking events are very good connections to have.
Take Time Out
Ready for another piece of networking advice that will probably make people who are good at networking cringe?… If you’re feeling completely overwhelmed, and you’re just standing there awkwardly with nobody to talk to, and it’s all a bit too much… Take out your phone. Turn it on. Look at it. Check your emails. Check Facebook. Stare at it blankly – it doesn’t really matter. Just look busy for a couple minutes so nobody talks to you. Take a few deep breaths. Then put your phone away and get back into it.
Most people like talking about themselves. Questions can be super simple like “What do you do?” “Where are you from?” “Do you have kids?” (I’m often at networking things specifically for parenting bloggers, so asking about kids is usually a gold mine for conversation!)
And if you’re asking them questions, then they’re doing talking! That means you don’t have to! WINNING!
Though I recently read an article that said when you meet people don’t ask more than three questions in a row unless they’ve asked you a question back. Because if you keep continuously asking them question it feels a little like an interrogation. Maybe they’re not feeling it. Maybe they hate networking too and they’re freaking out. If they’re not giving you anything in return just politely back out of the conversation.
Allow Plenty Of Time After The Event
Honestly I think the best “networking” happens after the official event is over. So try not to be in a position where you have to rush off the moment it ends. If at all possible set aside an extra hour or two so you’re available to pop out of a coffee, drink, meal – whatever – with people from the event. It’s also way more fun than actual networking. It can be great just to calm down and soothe your soul with a casual chat (and a glass of wine) once the pressure of networking is over.
Are you a networking expert or awkward AF?