In Part 1, I discussed why we all really hate networking. If there is one kind of networking that we dread the most, it’s organized, professional networking events. I’m talking about industry-specific events, happy hour networking meetups, and even company celebrations. It’s the stereotypical story I illustrated in The Importance of Networking.
Why do we cringe at these kinds of events? Is it because they are typically stiff and feel forced? Maybe it’s because it feels like there is always something urgent that comes up right before or the organizer seems to pick a place with logistical nightmares, like lack of parking. But if we are really being honest, most of us dread these events because we have a fear of approaching people. So let’s start there.
Overcoming the Fear
It’s human nature to fear rejection, to worry about looking stupid, and to overthink if you’re being awkward. Cut yourself some slack. It’s because of this over-analysis that we tend to underperform in a networking environment. We all have the skills to connect with others. Don’t focus on the fear, instead think about how much you enjoy meeting new people.
I like to direct my attention to the fact that most people are feeling similar to me. At professional networking events, there are plenty of attendees that are also nervous and fearful. You know that feeling you have wishing someone would approach you and strike up a conversation? Many others in the crowd are also feeling that way. Be brave and be the initiator.
If you’re still nervous, find a friend to tag along with you. Ask someone that has refined social skills that you admire. Let them know you’re working on pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and you are hoping that they can help you break the ice. Spending time observing a skilled communicator can help you refine your own skills. Don’t crutch on them too long, though. Work toward initiating conversations with them alongside you, then strike up a conversation on your own. Finally, try navigating an event all by yourself.
How to Make the Most of Any Event
Now that you’re feeling more at ease with the uncomfortable, let’s focus on why you’re really there: to make new connections. Here are quick tips on how to do that.
- If you have access, look over the guest list. Make note of attendees you want to meet and do some quick research on them so you have a few talking points.
- This may seem counter-intuitive, but resist the urge to show up late. It is a much easier strategy because as one of the first attendees, it is calmer and people haven’t settled into groups yet. This makes it far less intimidating to find someone who doesn’t have a conversation partner yet.
- When you can, add a conversation starter to your name tag. This gives the other person a point of reference to ask about.
- When you arrive at a networking event, avoid gravitating to people you know. Start by thanking the host and then immediately find someone new to introduce yourself to.
- Volunteer to help out. I like to volunteer to greet people at the door because you meet so many attendees beforehand. You could also volunteer to set up or serve drinks.
- Don’t wait around the edges of the event to be approached. Instead, find a group with multiple people that seem to be having a lot of fun (laughing, smiling, animated hand gestures). Walk up and ask an easy introduction question such as “do you have room for someone new in this conversation?”
- If you are looking for good placement, stand near the exit of the bar. New attendees typically frequent the bar first and are looking for a conversation once they have a drink and turn around to exit the bar.
- If you’re standing in line, use this opportunity to your advantage. Introduce yourself to the person in front or behind you. This is an easy, organic way to meet someone. Plus, if you don’t enjoy speaking with them, you have an easy transition out of the conversation after you get a drink or food.
Hopefully my pep talk and pointers have encouraged you to become more engaged in professional networking events. Continuously putting yourself out there is the only way you’re going to begin to feel more confident in these settings. So don’t overthink it. Keep giving yourself opportunities to practice and find what works best for you. Soon you’ll be the one giving me tips!
On a final note, remember that networking is not about collecting contacts. Networking is about creating and developing unique relationships. This is something we all enjoy doing. It’s human nature.
This blog series is dedicated to helping you become better at connecting with new people, getting you excited about the uncomfortable, and making networking your competitive advantage. Don’t miss out on the rest of the series on networking, subscribe to my blog announcements here.
The Networking Playbook
How to Be a Great Conversationalist (coming soon)
Make Networking a Habit (coming soonish)
Staying Connected with Your Network (coming after soonish)
Networking for Job Seekers (it will come)