I was chatting with a woman at a networking event a couple months ago. She confided in me that it was the first time she had attended one of these types of events. It was apparent that she was not in her comfort zone and although I was quite preoccupied with greeting other people, I tried to keep an eye on her. Every so often, I made a point to check in with her and engage her in conversation.
A week ago, I ran into her again. This time, I had the ability to spend some quality time with her and really have a true conversation. As we got to know each other better, she confessed that this networking event was going a lot better than the first one. Because I had watched her out of the corner of my eye at the previous event, I knew exactly what she meant. And then she said, “I have been watching you. You are so confident talking to people. It’s just so easy for you. I’m just nothing like that and this is really hard for me.”
I shared with her that a person is rarely born with networking skills. Like everything else in life, you perfect the skill with practice. If you haven’t had many experiences walking alone into a party or event, it can be overwhelming and even daunting. If you’ve spent the last 20 minutes in the car on the way to the event convincing yourself how you don’t want to go, it will be that much harder. In lieu of this, let me offer a few tips to make socializing a bit easier.
Turn off your brain and just take action. When you walk into a packed room, you can easily be overwhelmed by the experience. The key is to take action and move without thinking about it too much. Don’t analyze the experience or the individuals present. Just force your body to move, walk up to someone and introduce yourself. Whatever you do, don’t grab a chair and sit down. I know that feels safe, but it immediately will put you at a disadvantage. It will also give you the opportunity to overthink what is going on and feel worse about the situation.
Realize that the best networkers are great listeners. If you are good at listening, you have already made it to first base in networking. You would be surprised how people truly enjoy talking about their selves. My suggestion is that you have a list in your head of the questions you might ask. For example, where do they work, have they been to this event before, etc. Also, when you become a little more comfortable, you might point out something about the person that you admire. For example, maybe they are wearing a beautiful scarf or great looking earrings. Conversation often flows from there. You can ask deeper questions with the answers you receive.
Greet everyone with a smile. We receive the bulk of our message from nonverbal communication. Therefore, your smile, your body, your hand gestures, relays the majority of the message to your receiver. Remember to approach people with a nonverbal message that communicates, “I am very interested in meeting you and want to be here today.” Your message shouldn’t say, “I am dreading every single minute of this and can’t wait to get out and I am absolutely not interested in learning anything about you.” Don’t laugh; I remember meeting a woman that conveyed this very message to me.
I didn’t take it personally because she treated every person at the lunch the exact same way.
Treat everyone that you meet in life with the same level of interest. I just discussed this with a new friend I met networking. Nothing burns us more than when we meet someone who’s warmth and friendliness is in direct relation to whether we can further their career. Apparently, it’s all about what’s in it for them. Be friendly and kind with everyone. Period.
If the suggestions here seem too difficult, you might have to further develop your acting skills. Eventually, with enough practice, this whole thing called networking will become more natural.