In my personal vision of hell, I’m in large, red party room filled with hundreds of 3-year old children trying to feed me burnt mac and cheese, Phil Collins playing “In The Air Tonight” live on stage, and two gargantuan spiders are serving appetizers — and most importantly, everyone, and I mean everyone there is networking.
Unless you’re a self-assured, anxiety-free superhuman, networking probably isn’t your idea of fun. Awkwardly schmoozing with a roomful of strangers who will droll on about their jobs while expecting compliments can sound awful, and maybe even a bit like a family reunion. Yet, from time to time, your loving, caring boss may require you to attend one of these events, which leaves you with two options:
- Go into hiding (preferred option)
- Learn to survive in the wilderness that is business socialization
Hint – pick #2, because in any given networking room there are dozens of influential business people. That means hundreds of thousands of dollars in purchasing power and dozens of job opportunities just waiting for you to reach out and grab them. Don’t think of it as a networking event, think of it as a job fair.
Besides, networking isn’t so hard when you have a good game plan before you walk in. Here are the 6 best strategies for making more contacts and feeling less awkward at these events.
1. Get there on time
You might be tempted to show up late to these things just so you don’t have to bear them as long, but I wouldn’t advise it. Showing up on time allows you to get comfortable with your surroundings and, thus, feel less awkward sooner. Plus, the beginning of these events is likely the most important part because you get an early opportunity to scope out who’s going to show up, and maybe even work up the nerve to talk to a big-wig while they’re alone.
2. Don’t be afraid to use very, very dumb conversation starters
Unless you’re like boring the people around you, it’s usually not advisable to begin conversations by talking about the weather. Networking events, however, are absolutely the exception. You need to start talking to someone, at any cost, and the hardest part is just getting up the nerve to say anything. Remember, you’re in a room full of people who came there just to engage in conversations with others. As long as you show you’re willing to talk, they’ll be happy to oblige! Don’t worry how you start the conversation, just start it.
3. Get in a line
Waiting in line for food or drinks is a great way to avoid feeling anxious while meeting new people. Most of the awkwardness at these events comes from feeling like you don’t have anything to do, getting in a queue gives you a temporary purpose, and you’re naturally surrounded by people with whom you share some common ground (you’re all standing in a line). Not sure what to talk about? Refer back to #2…
4. Be a scavenger
At some point or another during the night, you’ll likely find yourself alone, and it may feel as though the rest of the room has paired off to talk. If you spot someone circling around (aka a shark), wait for them to talk to someone and join the conversation with them. This may feel powerfully weird (and, in practice, it is weird for a few seconds), but piggybacking onto a conversation is one of the best ways to enter because you’ll end up making contacts with two or more people at once.
Most networkers are extremely extroverted, talkative people who aren’t afraid to describe their business in detail, sometimes at length. Want to stand out from the crowd? Listen to them. Ask constructive questions. One of the most important things you can give to a conversational partner is the feeling that you understand them and their business. The more you’re able to cultivate that feeling, the more leads and job offers you’ll receive.
6. Make yourself memorable
Even if you have a really interesting job, when you’re asked “What do you do?”, you’ll most likely be tempted to downplay it. If you have something unique about you, say something about it! There is a time to be modest, and this is not it. If you’ve worked with a cool client recently, or if you’re making an interesting new product, or if your start-up has a cool mission statement, make sure to mention it in conversation. It might feel overly self-promotional, but the fact of the matter is that you’re far more likely to be remembered in the future if you stand out from the crowd now.
That’s all for now. Best of luck with your next networking event! Look for me while you’re there, I’ll be the one standing in all the lines.
Casey Ark is the 22-year-old owner of Plato Web Design (http://platowebdesign.com), a full-service custom web design agency located in Harrisburg, PA. Casey has over 9 years of experience in web design, development, and print design. When he’s not slouched over his desk making websites, he’s writing about business management, web security, and web development.
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