If you don’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling when you hear about an upcoming networking event (and by warm and fuzzy, I don’t mean about to hurl), never fear – that can change! Speaking as a former wallflower, I can now confidently say that I genuinely enjoy networking events. If you had told me that I would feel this way 10 years ago, I would have laughed in your face. Or more realistically, giggled timidly and then awkwardly shuffle-walked away. Attending networking events well is all about perspective. The first networking event that I went to by myself was a little bit terrifying – nerve-inducing to the point of giving myself an audible pep talk in my car in the parking lot. It went a little something like this:
“Kayte, you are a big girl, you can do this. They won’t be mean to you, and if they are you can leave immediately. Just walk in, order a drink, take a quick lap, meet one person, and then you can leave.”
I ended up staying for 2 hours. I had a wonderful time, and made connections with people that I still keep up with nearly a year later. Since then, I have tried to attend one event each week. Not because I’m a cat lady and have nothing better to do with my free time, but because every time I go to a networking event, I walk away with something new (and not because I’m pickpocketing people while I’m there). Here are a few tidbits that I’ve picked up along my networking journey; I hope they are helpful to you!
- Set a goal before you walk in: my goal is always to meet at least one person. I don’t let myself leave until that happens. Decide what you want to glean from the event, and don’t let yourself bail until you have achieved exactly what you intended.
- Practice makes perfect: turns out that my high school lacrosse coach was right – the more you practice, the easier networking becomes. The hyperactive butterflies in your stomach will subside, you’ll begin to see familiar faces as you attend regular meetings, and before you know it, friends you drag along will comment that you seem to know everyone in the room – imagine that! So allow yourself to make awkward conversational faux pas in the beginning, stumble through a discussion with a CEO without realizing he’s the CEO until it’s too late to recover, and forget your business cards – you will learn from all of these experiences! And as painful as the situation might seem in the moment, odds are that no one will remember you as “the girl who spilled wine on herself” at the next event. Keep practicing! It gets easier, I promise.
- You just never know who you’ll meet: making valuable connections is the whole point of networking. If you have registered for the event via a site like Eventbrite, you may have access to the guest list and can then mentally prepare for the people you will meet there. Otherwise, you can just walk up to someone and start a conversation – that person could be your next employer/best friend/business partner/boyfriend/girlfriend/etc. You just never know!
- Humans are better than the 9:00 news claims: I cannot tell you how many times the strangers I’ve met at networking events have offered to help me. Whether it is a videographer suggestion, or recommending a friend of mine for a job opening, people (in Nashville at least) are pretty great. And while you never know what someone might be able to offer you, you also don’t know how you’ll be able to help them. This has been perhaps my favorite aspect of networking – getting caught up in the “how can I help you” mentality that everyone seems to share.
- Clinging to your safety raft gets you nowhere*: Bringing a few friends or coworkers with you to a networking event is great. BUT if you only talk to them all night, you might as well have gone straight home from work and watched Netflix because you will be missing out on all of the benefits of networking. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be intimidating, but taking the easy road is often not the most beneficial in the long run. So let go of that safety raft and make some new connections, you won’t regret it.
Here are a few of the networking events that I have attended in the Nashville area. Check out their websites, and I hope to see you at an event in the near future 🙂
What are you favorite networking events? Any tips to share? Leave a comment below.
*Unless it’s a literal safety raft and you’re stranded in the middle of the ocean, <my nightmare> then please hang on for dear life.