Networking. The word alone may conjure images of serpent like wires and feelers extending out in a mammoth web of cords, just like that scene in the Matrix. Only me? Ok well, moving right along then. But honestly in a time where we feel ever pressured to push onwards and upwards and scale that corporate ladder, networking is part of that beast. The schmoozey drinks, the awkward intros and the feigning of genuine interest when you get stuck with someone from the audits department.
For millennials in particular networking anxiety is a major site of burnout, we churn day and night only to forgo the adage it’s not what you know it’s who you know, becoming disheartened and exhausted in the process. Whether you’re socially anxious when it comes to this arena setting of conversation or just unfamiliar, here’s how to get over that anxiety and extend your networks one handshake and business card exchange at a time.
Accept Your Anxiety
The first step on your journey of self realisation is acceptance, ok that’s enough of the self help mumbo jumbo, but seriously accept that nervous energy. If you amp yourself up to the point of pompousness at some point in the event or even right before you’re likely to deflate. The front will subside and the facade all about evaporate leaving the same nervous bundle that you were to start in a room completely out of your depth. Instead accept the anxiety and take things slow, try to bring a buddy with you where possible for moral support and make an effort to take a breather every once in a while. Baby steps little giraffe, you’ll be pouring it up with the big dogs in no time.
Prep And Pep
Prep your self before you wreck yourself, words to live by. Like when you have a cheeky
generous tipple before a night out, your pre game will determine the quality of your night. Practice your introductions, have a talking point or two under your belt and know how to answer the obvious questions with poise. “What do you do?” “How’d you hear about X?” “What did you think of the speaker?” If you have a bunch of quips in your arsenal the standard small talk that is the very bread and butter of these networking events will not unsettle you one bit. Recall thinking the gussy up function in Sims was a tad odd? Well, chatting to yourself in the mirror is actually a great way to start your chit chat engine. Go forth and gussy up.
Dress The Part
You don’t have to necessarily be on your suit and tie shit for an afterwork event, but you do have to scrub up sharp. Rid yourself of any potential stench, keep your attire freshly pressed and look for an outfit that says you work above your pay grade. Even if you’re an intern at a FinTech meet up, now’s your opportunity to mingle with the account managers and schedulers, so dress like you deserve that job. Office attire is particularly blasé these days in most settings, but what is fine in your cubicle might not cut it to a high flying exec from the heart of the city. Overdressed is always better than under done.
Set Yourself Goals
Before you do that, ask yourself why you’re attending? If the answer is out of obligation, perhaps it’s time to muster up a little motivation before you step foot into that
lion’s den room. From there set yourself a few KPI’s to work that room, whether it’s at least 15 introductions, 10 business cards or just a handful of meaningful interactions; it helps set you on course for an evening of purpose.
Don’t fret either if you get stuck talking to someone, that’s what you came here for. Use it as a learning curve to master the art of exiting a conversation or bring the boring chatterer along to your next conversation (if you can’t handle ditching them all together). Once you’ve attended one or two of these events you’ll be able to move with a little more ease and adjust your goals to push yourself inch by inch out of your comfort zone.
The single prerequisite to success is showing up and networking cannot be at all useful if you don’t even go. Your couch is begging for you to come home and enjoy a takeaway dinner or perhaps an invite to drinks with mates nearby; no matter the better offer push yourself to make it there. If you’ve committed yourself to going, don’t be a flake about it. It’s never going to be as bad as you’ve imagined in your head nor will it get any easier if you keep avoiding these interactions. If you press attending count yourself in, no ifs or buts about it.
Be A Storyteller
So you’ve made it in the door, past the small talk and weather chatter, before you know it you’re in a deep conversation about foreign markets or the adventures you’ve had exploring the hills of Japan. Although this is a work event, don’t treat it strictly as such. To be a good conversationalist in these settings you can steer the talk ever so lightly in your direction, but for the first timer it’s better to just listen, then respond with your own stories.
Stories speak to life experience rather than your strictly number crunching ability and for a networking event that’s exactly what you want to do. Be colourful and show your personality, these business types will remember your vibrancy and candour more than your resume talk points.
Rinse and Repeat
Practice makes absolute perfect and if you truly wish to overcome networking anxiety, you’ve got to do it all over again. And again. Go get them tiger, we believe in you.
Image source: Dollface Magazine, Like The Yoghurt.