I’m an introvert (INFJ). Sometimes anxiety makes that feel worse than it needs to. The way people legitimately enjoy the networking hour makes me cringe sometimes. Just a bunch of people delighted to be in the presence of other people asking them about all kinds of irrelevant things just to get to the beneficial tidbit.
I’m getting ready to attend a conference next week and for the sake of reminders, I’ve repurposed this post from my previous blog.
I like having conversations for the deep exchange of insight and worldview with another person. I’m not thinking about what they do for a living. Not thinking about how they can help me. I’m sometimes not even thinking about how I can help them. I just want to see how I vibe with them. I want to know how they think. Unfortunately, that isn’t usually the nature of networking.
I always have to get past some blunders before I get comfortable with a conversation. I’m bound to say something that I think was dumb and I spend the following 10 minutes of the conversation trying to talk myself off the ledge. But once we get past that I can be amazing. IF we ever get past that. Sometimes I just don’t.
If you’re anything like me, I have a few tips for how I get through suffocating networking moments.
I’m good for a bathroom break and I try to plan them strategically. I sometimes take a break as soon as I where I’m going. I use those moments regroup and psyching myself up to face the folks. Use this time to make sure everything is in place so you’re not worried about what you’re looking like when you’re speaking to someone important.
If there is food involved, take another bathroom break after everyone has finished eating. Take your deep breaths, readjust. Make sure there isn’t anything on your face. Most importantly, breathe. Get away from everyone. If possible, don’t go to the bathroom everyone is using if it’s that kind of place. Find a single bathroom without stalls, or go up to some other floor so it’s less likely that someone else will be around to interrupt your much-needed solitude.
Pretend to take a call, or actually go make a call. I’ve stepped out of spaces to call my mother just so I could have a moment away from people I didn’t really know. One, my mother will always, ALWAYS pick up. Two, I can call my mother 45 times a day and it still wouldn’t be too much. Three, I can recap how the day has been going with my mom which also helps me sort through how I feel about the event. Lastly, chances are she’ll also have a story that will make me forget about all the networking vultures in the room I’ve just left.
Sip a Lil Sum
Wine is a really great way for me to be comfortable in professional social situations. As much as I love margs, there’s nothing like a good ole glass of something white (or red) to get me smiling and contributing to conversations. It calms me down, mellows me out, and I’m not so worried about calculating everything that comes out of my mouth. It loosens me up just enough to be cute and charming (since I am indeed cute and charming) and I’m here for that. If everyone else is drinking something or there’s an open bar, take advantage.
Keep Your Device Fully Charged
Nothing says “temporarily unavailable” like checking your phone during a networking event. I know it’s supposed to be taboo or whatever, but nobody knows whether you’re checking your work email or your DMs. You could be doing something super important for all they know. If you’re feeling really awkward, have used up all your bathroom breaks, and the liquor hasn’t hit yet, scroll through something really quickly. Preferably not Instagram. Somehow, appearing to be endlessly scrolling on your phone doesn’t completely keep people away and it’s possible someone will run up on you anyway. (Like how dare you assume I’m only scrolling because I’m bored, back up plznthx)
Wear comfortable clothes
This may seem like a no brainer, but we’ve all pushed the envelope at one point or another with outfits. Don’t wear anything that will make you feel more self-conscious than you already make yourself feel on a regular day. If those pants are a bit too snug, chances are, you’ll be tugging at them all night. Eliminate all possible variables to you stressing yourself out that much more.
Networking is important, yes. Granted, I prefer social networking via Al Gore’s internet. But the world we live in still values face to face interaction. And let’s be clear, it is important. The key is to feel as comfortable as possible and not push your limits. The anxiety that social situations cause me to feel is not less important than the connections I might make that night. I take care of myself first. If I only have two meaningful conversations the whole night, then I’ve done more than enough. I’m not in the business of racing to the business card finish line.
Be okay with moving at your own pace.