networking events

Embracing the Awkward: How to Navigate Networking Events With Ease

Sweat drips down your back. Your clammy palms leave smudges on your wine glass. Cheeks tense from extended fake smiles. You must be at some networking events! Whether a casual mixer or industry trade show, networking events are invaluable aspects of doing business. Unfortunately, it can also be the stuff of nightmares. Surrounded by strangers and aware your professional success depends on the connections you make, it’s easy to be transported back to a middle school dance desperately clinging to the walls. As an event emcee, I make connections with groups of strangers on a daily basis. In this post, I’ll share tips and lessons I’ve learned to help you grow from awkward wallflower to networking events maven- no personality change required! 

Step One: Set Your Goal

Before setting foot at the event, take time to manage your expectations and clearly define your goal.  Don’t settle for something generic and ultimately meaningless. Of course you’re there to meet people, but who, how, and why?  Ask yourself these questions: 

What do I need help with? (Who could help me with that?)  

How can I help others? (Who might need that help?)

These answers help guide both your conversations and who you spend time with.  Get an idea of who will be attending the event by skimming the email chain or public RSVP list.  Do some quality LinkedIn stalking and take note of who you’d like to connect with.     

Step Two: Acknowledge the Awkward

With your goal decided, it’s time to mentally prepare for your networking session.  Networking can be mentally exhausting, especially for introverts. I find that many people try to put on a performance of themselves while networking, attempting to showcase what they consider to be their best attributes.  This often causes interactions to feel like a job interview. Instead, recognize that everyone feels a little awkward and RELAX. The more genuine you can be, the more people will be willing to trust you and open up. A tactic that helps me is to use mindfulness to create space around any negative thoughts I have.  Instead of thinking “I’m scared” think, “I’m feeling scared.”  This helps to acknowledge your current feelings as temporary things that can be changed.  

Step Three: Have Conversations That Matter

Don’t get stuck talking about the weather for two hours!  My response to people that hate small talk is to NOT engage in it.  If you don’t care about the subject matter, your conversation partner probably doesn’t either.  Ideally networking discussions should be exciting and filled with ideas or personal stories that help build connection.  If you haven’t yet, check out Chad Littlefield’s talk on Conversations That Matter. By turning our focus to asking powerful questions and caring about the answers, we become far more memorable than spouting our resume repeatedly.  I personally like carrying his We Connect conversation cards with me on networking events. By phrasing the questions like a game you can have fun learning about each other by sharing answers.         

Step Four: Share the Love

Come from a place of service and focus on how to help those you’re connecting with.  Be a human switchboard and help your new found friends by providing relevant introductions to those in your network.  Act as a sounding board and throw out some brainstorm ideas. Empathize with problems and share anecdotes of your failure.  By being of service, you get a chance to demonstrate your skills and expertise. Meanwhile, your contact will be grateful and more inclined to return the favor.

Step Five: Take it Online

Networking Advice 101 will remind you to reach out to your new connections a day or two after the event.  My suggestion is to put more care into those emails than the standard “It was nice to meet you!” Have some actual content to share.  This will be made easier by those more meaningful conversations you had in Step Three. A follow up question on a topic you discussed, or a link to an article that aligns with your shared interests can be far more appreciated than the virtual equivalent of flailing your arms and asking “Remember me?!”      

By following these steps you should be able to feel more relaxed and find more success at networking sessions.  For more help breaking the ice, check out FireFly Team Events’ Maximum Mixer. We’ll lead activities for the whole room designed to get you laughing and getting to know each other.