Honestly, I don’t know anyone who actually enjoys networking events… but then, most of my friends are fellow introverts who would prefer to be at home, sipping tea (or something stronger) and far away from the din of smalltalk at an awkward networking event.
Too bad they’re pretty unavoidable for those of us who want to take action for our career: we can’t do it alone watching Netflix.
The good news (yes, I promise there is some) is that there are strategies you can put in place to make getting through an awkward networking event a breeze – even if you’re a hardcore introvert.
1. Plan ahead
We fear the unknown. Do yourself a favor by researching the event in advance. Even looking up the event space ahead of time (many will have online galleries) allows you to visualize it. Doing this innately calms us, as we know what to expect.
2. Prep your small talk
If you can also find out who else might be attending in your industry ahead of time, you can do a bit of online ‘stalking’ to learn about them. Then, you can prepare something to say that is slightly better than ‘nice shoes’ (though, when in doubt for small talk - compliment!)
3. Bring a friend
If you can convince a fellow colleague or friend to meet you at the event, you will be much more likely to show up. I find that if no one knows I’m going… I’m more likely to bail on the event. One word of warning: do not spend the event talking only to them. They can be great to help you ‘warm up’, but don’t use a familiar face as a crutch - that’s not what you came for!
4. Find the wallflower
Many ‘networking tips’ will tell you to find someone who looks comfortable, confident and extroverted. This can work, but I find it’s far too intimidating for many of us – at least at the start of the event. Instead, find someone who looks equally awkward, and warm up by talking to them. It’s comforting to know you aren’t the most awkward there, and with this confidence you can move onto bigger groups.
5. Turn on airplane mode
Another crutch we sometimes rely on at networking events is our bestie: our phones. If possible, turn your phone onto airplane mode to make sure you aren’t distracted by messages or Facebook when times are getting tough.
6. Set a timer
This is one of my favorite techniques, which applies to anything that we don’t necessarily enjoy. Give yourself just 20 minutes to stick around. It’s a manageable amount of time, and even if you leave after that, at least you know you’ve tried. It also forces us to make the most of our time, rather than spending it by the snack table, pretending to text someone.
7. Get your excuses ready
When your 20 minutes is up and you do feel the urge to bail, have a decent excuse ready. This will reduce your anxiety about leaving, and make sure fellow guests don’t feel like they’re boring you (even if they are).
This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.