August 19th, 2013 by Jessica
Networking. A special kind of nightmare. Not only are you going out in public, you’re going to an event. Not just any event, an event full of colleagues whom you respect and/or whom you desire to respect you. It’s not the kind of event where you can just hang by the cookie tray, leave after an hour, and feel like you accomplished something just by going.
Nope. The whole reason for going to this event is to meet and/or converse with people.
The good news is that a lot of these events involve people you already know from work. Even if you don’t like the people you work with, familiar faces will help your anxiety.
Here are a few essential tips that come in handy for successfully navigating a networking event:
1. Handshakes. Very important. Firm, not tight. Eye contact (remember, you can cheat with the forehead), a SMILE, and a polite platitude. “It’s so nice to finally meet you.” “I really admire your work, sir.” “The presentation you gave last month was really great.” Open every new meeting with a smile and a polite platitude.
2. Introductions. Sometimes you are in the position to introduce two people. A proper introduction really makes a huge difference. Introduce each person with a tidbit about them, or with pointing out a similarity between the two people.
A) “This is Jane, who heads up our department’s graphics projects. Jane, this is Christopher, first assistant to the CEO.” Now they know a little bit about each other, and conversation will start much more easily.
Even better, if possible, is option B) “Jane, this is Christopher in the CEO’s department. He’s the one that got me into the New 52. Chris, Jane is a hard core Marvel fan.” Or, “Chris, this is Jane from the Graphics department, she went to college in Wisconsin. Jane, Chris grew up near Madison.” Now they immediately have something to converse about.
A good introduction can be an immediate and smooth way to instigate a nice conversation among co-workers.
3. Research who will be there. Who is it important for you to talk to? Find out something about them. Even better if it’s something you share. “I hear you’re a Knicks fan, too.” Or if it’s something you don’t share “Bill was saying you go rock climbing regularly. I’ve always wanted to try that. Is it difficult for a beginner?”
I know it feels false, but you are making an effort to connect with someone at an event organized specifically so people can make connections to each other. It would be like going to a Singles Event and feeling bad for asking for someone’s phone number. It is WHY you are THERE. Don’t feel bad about it.
Is it stalkery to research ice breakers ahead of time? Maybe, but do it anyway. It’s hard enough for people with anxiety to socialize at all, when you add the extra pressure of specifically going somewhere to talk to new people…any tool you can arrive with to make that process easier is essential.
BE GENUINE. Don’t pretend to be a Knicks fan when you know nothing about basketball. Why pretend you know something about basketball when you can ask that person to tell you how they got into the game? Now you’ve got them talking about something they love, and you haven’t had to lie or pretend anything that is untrue.
Go in armed with information, and it will make the entire process so much easier. On top of which, if you go in knowing who you want to meet, then you can concentrate on meeting them and then, once you do, getting the hell out of there.
Now, one more thing. This is one of the few times I will recommend a Designated Wingman. The types of events where networking happens almost always disguise themselves as parties. Husbands, wives, significant others, and sometimes older children are invited to these things.
Now, we all know the world is not an ideal place. We don’t all have awesome Wingmen standing in reserve to toot our horn for us and chat up our boss’s super boring surfer boyfriend. That’s ok. The above tips will help you tremendously. However, if you DO have a Wingman candidate…read on!
Choose your Wingman with care. Being a Networking Wingman is a skill, make no mistake. I won’t lie, I’m an excellent Networking Wingman. While I find it impossible to toot my own horn, I’m more than happy to toot the horns of others.
Think of your Wingman as your Horn Tooter. Choose someone who will look presentable, and knows how important the event is to you. It doesn’t have to be a significant other. Hell, it could be your sister. It doesn’t matter.
1. Chat up the fellow Wingmen. Let’s say you want to say hi to the CFO of your company, but you’re totally freaked out. Your Wingman will go up the CFO’s date/spouse and compliment them on their suit/tie/purse/shoes/whatever. Now you’ve got an opening, because your CFO is right there. Another example, your boss calls you over to a conversation with a few coworkers about a project. Your Wingman will chat up the significant others while you all talk business.
You’re probably wondering what the point is. In these situations the Wingman helps you A) break into conversations and B) look like you belong there even if you feel like you don’t. I promise, if you start to feel like a fish out of water, seeing your Wingman chatting up with your boss’s wife/husband/teenage kid will help you feel like you have a place.
Conversely, after that party those people will chat about who they met. If your Wingman chats up the other “extra” people at the networking event, it makes them feel good. THEY don’t want to feel left out either. The Wingman handles making them feel comfortable while you talk business. All of that is a good reflection on you.
2. Toot that horn, baby! For example, a few friends of mine happened to get lost with Gail Simone at Geek Girl Con a few years back. We all ended up wandering around the convention center looking for a way in. We got to chatting, and we all, of course, told Gail how awesome we thought she was. Because she’s a sweet person, she asked about what we do. We all kind of froze up, so I popped out out “Sarah wrote this awesome book called One Con Glory. It’s really great!” So Sarah ended up giving Gail a copy of her book!
Sarah, like many of us, is modest. (Her book is awesome read it) It’s a great quality, but that mixed with some shyness over meeting a fellow writer whom she admired could have mixed into a missed opportunity. However, I love Sarah and am happy to tell everyone how awesome she is when she gets shy.
Of course, right after that Sarah said “Jessica made a show called Awkward Embraces!” and we ended up tooting each others’ horns like awesome friends do.
Again, not everyone has a good Wingman in their life, and that’s ok. Truly, even if you go to the event and stand next to the cookies, or just talk to your cubicle-mate the whole time, GOING is always better than not going. It’s important for people to see your fact, and have a chance to talk to you outside of work. It really does make a difference. I hope these tips can help you at your next networking event.
Thanks so much for reading! Leave any comments below, or any tips you have found that work for yourself. Let’s all help each other!
Next week: Job Interviews!