Social Guides for the Socially Awkward Part 4: Networking!

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.

The tips I put forth in my first post all still apply.  Feel free to go back and reference those.

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.


Just pretend someone told you. A co-worker named Google. Source:

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.

Try and pick a better conversationalist than this wingman. Source:

Try and pick a better conversationalist than this wingman. Source:

Wingman Responsibilities:

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.

Seriously, read it.

Seriously, read it.

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!

Social Guides for the Socially Awkward – Dating Part 2

All right.  We talked about the initial introduction in last week’s post.  This week, I’d like to talk about the ACTUAL date part.

First, I’d like to reiterate a few things I touched on in the first post

A few tips for socialization. 

Active listening is harder than you think.  It’s so easy to get caught up in the inner monologue. Pretend those inner voices are that annoying commercial you hate (Old Navy, how I hate you).  Tune it out, and focus on the words being spoken to you.  Tune them in.  It takes thought and concentration to listen to others when you feel anxious and uncomfortable. Focus on it like you’re Clark Kent trying to figure out how his laser eyes work.

Personal space is important.  Just imagine everyone has a bubble around them, and try not to pop it.  If it’s hard to hear, lean in with your ear to the person so they know you are trying to listen.  It’s a universal signal for “TALK LOUDER PLEASE”.  Women especially can feel threatened if a strange man stands too close, so try to keep that in mind.

Don’t stare.  Of course, you may be working up the nerve to talk to someone and that is totally natural.  But try and look in their general direction, and not directly at them while doing so.  While you’re in your head trying to encourage yourself to walk up to them and speak, all they see is the creeper staring at them.

When conversing, try and make eye contact.  This can be difficult for some, so compromise by looking right between their eyes on their forehead.


Try and keep those things in mind.  They are very small things that make a big difference.

OK, for the date itself.  I have a few recommendations.

My favorite is the Group Date.  It sounds unconventional, but I swear to you group dates are the BEST.

What’s a group date?  It’s when you and a couple of friends meet up with that person and a couple of their friends and everyone goes and hangs out somewhere.  No pressure!  Tons of other people!  A group date to a place like an arcade or theme park or museum or something like that is perfect.  An activity that everyone can partake in and get to know each other.  Not only do you have moral support leading up to it, but everyone can help carry the evening together.  If it’s a disaster?  You aren’t alone!  If it goes well?  You and that person can hover in a corner chatting, or go off on your own to look at something or whatever.

Um... I googled “Group of partiers” and this happened.  Sorry, not sorry! :-D Source:

Um… I googled “Group of partiers” and this happened. Sorry, not sorry! :-D



Seriously, though. How fun would a group date RPG be! Source:

Seriously, though. How fun would a group date RPG be!

No pressure, moral support, easy out…it’s the ideal way to get to know someone new for an introvert.

However, maybe a group date is not possible.  Or, maybe the group date goes great and you get a one-on-one!  What do you do then?

In that case, I’ll point you to a piece I wrote for Tech Republic last winter: Places to take an introvert on a date.  (

Great ideas for places that introverts can go where they will feel comfortable, be able to really get to know someone, and have space to gather themselves if they get nervous.

Sometimes, however, the asker has a plan that they don’t clue you in on.  Sometimes that works out great, and sometimes not.   Either way, the unplanned happens.  A few tips for dealing with the inevitable surprises and uncomfortable moments.

1.  Deep breaths.  It’s a simple thing, but it makes a difference.

2.  If you’re prone to being really uncomfortable in certain situations, be honest UP FRONT.  Don’t try and pretend you are something you’re not!  This person has to date YOU, not the you that you wish you could be.  Just say “Hey, I’m not great in big crowds, so maybe we can go somewhere quiet on our date.”  Easy peasy.  TRUST ME, they will appreciate your being honest up front.  And if they don’t, they’re a jerk anyway.   If someone isn’t willing to work around your feelings and anxieties, they were never going to be right for you.  It’s better to know that at the start.

3.  Take time if you need it.  Step away to the bathroom and sit in a stall for a few minutes if you need to.  It sounds silly, but sometimes a bathroom stall is the only place you can get away from people and have four walls around you.

Myrtle knows all about it. It’s not pathetic, it’s taking time for yourself. Pop in your earphones, play a little music, and head to your happy place for a few minutes. Source:

Myrtle knows all about it. It’s not pathetic, it’s taking time for yourself. Pop in your earphones, play a little music, and head to your happy place for a few minutes.

4.  If it gets bad – be honest.  Apologize for not being up front about your feelings before the date, and then explain what you need.  If the person is caring at all, they will want to help you feel better, BUT most people who don’t suffer from our anxieties have a lot of trouble understanding it.  Get out of the situation quickly, and explain when you have more time.  Be specific about your needs.  Once you are out of the situation and no longer freaking out, it will be easier to explain yourself.  Keep in mind, this conversation is always easier before the date has been planned, so try and go for #2 if you can.


No matter what happens, you deserve congratulations.  Dating is HARD.  Don’t let anyone tell you different.  But getting out there, making an effort, will be so worth it in the long run.  If nothing else, you’ll conquer your own fears and get out into the world meeting people.  You never know where that will take you.

Try and look at it as a challenging adventure.  I sincerely hope that these tools will help you to experience it as something fun, rather than something to be endured.

Thanks so much for reading.  Comment below with any questions or comments you may have.  Let’s all help each other!

Next week I’ll cover Networking!