Networking Anxiety

February 1, 2017

It’s like dating but more professional

Networking is like speed dating. You get all gussied up to make sure you leave a lasting impression. You make sure you arrive on time, grab a drink to have something in your hand or help you loosen up abit, you awkwardly say hello and mingle and try to make it through the process of forced small talk. It might work out tonight or it might not. You might meet someone and strike up a conversation that could lead to something amazing and new. Or you could be left standing there thinking “Should I try online dating instead? Matchmaker perhaps?” I find networking in big groups to be exactly that.

You would think that just because I work in PR, networking is something I enjoy or look forward to. It’s quite the opposite. I don’t like it (I know, shocking! You should see people’s face when I tell them this dirty little secret of mine). I hate small talk – it actually gives me anxiety. I think it is because at the end of the day, all I can think about is does this person really care? Is this genuine? Are they being real? What is the point of this? All the questions that run through my mind and then some.

Now, let me clarify. I don’t like networking in stranger-filled, big groups where I am forced to make small talk and make eye contact from across the room or awkwardly butt into a conversation to introduce myself. I also find that when people at the event know each other, those are the only people they stick with (it’s called networking people; meet new faces!). Some people are amazing at networking and I salute them. It’s a real talent and those who have it make it look like a piece of cake.

What I do enjoy is one-on-one coffee dates where I know someone has taken the time out to meet with me and we’ve spent some time talking, chatting, exchanging information, and collaborating. It’s not that I don’t like to meet people. I love human interaction with purpose.

Networking can be a lot of things: big group events, one on one, LinkedIn, etc. A recent survey concluded that whether you’re actively looking for a job or casually looking while employed, networking works. In my experience, when I’ve randomly emailed someone I have really wanted to meet and set up a coffee date, those have been my most meaningful networking successes. I got the time with that individual without the pressure that someone else was going to come in and sweep this person away (sounds kind of like a pathetic dater). That individual got to know me on a more personal level and that gave me the confidence to continue the conversation online.

The benefits of networking are endless, especially if you’re just starting out. Don’t be afraid to go to large events. It works for some people. And of course, you can always do a one on one but make it personal and find what works best for you.

Here are some tips to help with your next experience:

  1. Grab a drink: you’ll need it (unless it’s coffee – then add Baileys).
  2. Be yourself – this helps you stay authentic. If you’re more genuine and authentic, the less fake the whole experience seems and that goes for the other person too.
  3. Have some talking points and questions ready. This includes random facts that may be an interesting conversation starter. Even researching the other person before hand (almost everyone is on social media so it shouldn’t be that hard) helps to create conversation. Do you have people you know in common? Same school? Same interests?
  4. Don’t just talk – LISTEN! It’s an art to listen more than talk. If you’re a great listener you can soak up a lot of information and create more meaningful conversations.
  5. Don’t be afraid to reach out. What’s the worst thing that can happen when you email someone to ask them for a meeting? They say no. On to the next one!
  6. Follow up. Make sure you send a follow up email to say thank you and to open the doors to a lasting mentorship.

For more tips on networking, check out this Forbes article.