When we speak to our Naked tribe, we hear that networking events are at the top of the list of things that make people (everyone, not just you) the most uncomfortable.
Facing up to a room full of strangers is daunting because we are programmed this way. A group of unknowns in the wild was a potential threat to our lives in our cavewoman days.
Even the most extroverted of extroverts can find it daunting to talk to people they have never met, not to mention tolerating people who are clearly looking over their shoulder for someone more interesting to speak to. These events provide plenty of opportunity for awkwardness.
But there are a few simple tips that can make connecting in a group of new people a little less Liz Lemon and a lot more Tina Fey.
Honesty breeds honesty.
Networking can bring out the show-offs, the people for whom everything is going just great: stellar sales, amazing results, and growth potential to last a lifetime. We can all spin our stories to sell the audience on how great we are, and doing so is sometimes a great survival skill. However, you’ll usually find that ditching the PR pitch and talking honestly about a challenge you are facing (in a non-wingey way) can let to a better conversation. You’ll learn from how the other person (or company) is dealing with this particular issue and a bit about what’s happening in the market as well.
Listening is the best way to start a conversation.
Most people think about networking from the perspective of what they are going to say. Instead, think about networking in terms of what someone else might have to say to you. Last week, I was at an event with other finance professionals, and a woman was talking about her company’s performance appraisal process. My first instinct was to start talking about my own company’s process but instead I asked her how it worked at her company, what she did to prepare and a ton of other questions. She gave me good ideas about how this process can be run better and I was actually then able to take some of these ideas that I thought were worthwhile to our General Manager and suggest some changes to way we think about our quarterly reviews, “based on my conversations with successful peers in the industry.”
Everyone has something interesting to teach you
Being thrown together with people with whom you have nothing in common is awkward. However, in a lot of cases these are the people most likely to teach you something valuable. Stepping outside of your circle is one of the most effective ways to begin thinking outside your box and networking is the perfect chance to get access to different types of thinkers, all in one location. At a breakfast this month, I sat at a table with no one I knew.
I gave myself the assignment to learn about each person’s business, and in the process, I discovered from a bio-tech CEO – a great source of online retention statistics. And, just by chance, I wound up talking to an IT expert who told me about great editing software, which was much better than one I had been using. None of these people are in my industry, nor did their careers in any way overlap with mine, yet they each told me about something I could use.
So think again before you consider checking out of an event or contemplate hiding out by the buffet table with a plate full of meatballs (although we do love meatballs).
Any opportunity to reach out to someone new can present the most unexpected learning opportunity, provide you with great nuggets of advice, and force you to do something outside your comfort zone – all of which are fundamental to creating a career you love. Isn’t that right Tina?