I’m gonna be blunt… I network like it’s my fucking job. The industry I work in, the organizations in which I’m involved, the personal and professional goals I want to achieve; all of it is based on who you know as much as your skills and charms. Add in the fact that I’m in a city full of people just like me wanting the same things… it’s a part of life.
I’m also an introvert who would rather sit in the corner shoving cheese in my face instead of get the spotlight put on me. It’s extremely anxiety inducing to talk to new people and have things to say on the tip of your tongue. You want to go up and talk to that person with the amazing handbag, but you also don’t want to draw attention to the fact that your have set a world record for the amount of cocktail weenies you have consumed in 2 minutes.
I’ve been there. I feel you. And if I can fake it until I make it, so can you. So, bust out that cheezy 80s inspirational music because I’m going to give you my (not that secret) tips and tricks to get yourself out there.
How To Network Like A Badass
Find an event or reason to leave the house
I find my things on Facebook events and Eventbrite. If that doesn’t do it for you, find your local relevant professional organization (mine is PRSA) or collegiate alumni and seek out like minded people. I also highly recommend Network Under 40, which can be found in Nashville, Atlanta, and Baltimore. Check Meetup. Or just do what John Oliver says.
Do some Research on what you’re about to do
Don’t walk in blind. Figure out what topics to talk about. If you’re at a networking luncheon for knitting, maybe don’t start off with a spirited discussion about the Body Farm. Wait for someone to bring up a forensic podcast first. Tread lightly with political talk unless you’re hanging with a civic minded group (and even then… at your own risk). Basically, preread the room. Also, figure out things like parking before you get there and find out it’s a $20 cash only pay lot.
Prep your personal PR Kit
Bring business/contact cards if you can. I threw these together in Canva while I was watching Pinky & The Brain. They need tweaking, but it took no time.
Staples usually has same day business card printing. Or, buy the pack of business card paper from Target and print at home as you need.
Having a quick and dirty answer to “so, what do you do?” is also something worth prepping, especially if you’re not in a position to hand out business cards. Get a scrap of paper and a pen, and write down the following
- Who you are (I’m Kiwi)
- What you do (I have a blog)
- What that is (A hot ass mess)
From those three points, work those in to a sentence or two that you can say with confidence. Practice in the mirror or in front of your cat.
If I were to be asked this at a blogging event, my response would be:
Hi, I’m Kiwi. I have a blog called Glitter & Profanity. Basically, it’s a lifestyle blog catered to my lifestyle; I talk about planners, and crafts, and books… and follow along as I get back to “real life” after my kidney transplant.
The conversation goes from there… usually to either “omg, that is a great blog name!” (I know!) or “oh wow, you had a kidney transplant?” (yup, wanna see the scar?). After that point, you’re in a conversation! Congrats!
Just do your homework. You can probably guess what topics will come up and you have some cool things about yourself that you can brag about. Make bullet points in your head and string them together like beautiful handcrafted beads on your necklace of life.
Dress the Part
This will depend a lot on personal style and taste, but my two key things I remember when getting ready for these things are:
- Dress for the job you want
- Be Comfortable
It’s a self love cycle; if you look good, you feel good; and if you feel good, you look good. I like to wear wrap dresses because they accommodate my snacking. Don’t use this as the moment to break in new shoes. It’s better to over-dress a little than to be under-dressed. If you show up to box lunch wearing a blazer and red lipstick, people will think you came from something important. If you show up in your pj shorts, people will think you just woke up.
This is the hardest part. You suddenly remember it’s time to floss the cat. You have a stomach ache. It’s raining outside and traffic is gonna be shit.
You’re gonna get in your car, put on the Spice Girls, and absorb all the Girl Power you can while you cuss at the people who can’t figure out how to zip merge.
Then, when you park… take a minute. Breathe. These are just people. They are here for the same reasons you are; to get to know more about this thing. Plus there are snacks inside. Do you really want to turn around without snacks?
At the very least, give it 30 minutes and then dip.
Find the Food & Drinks
This piece of advice shouldn’t come as a shock with how many times I’ve mentioned snacks already in this post. There is a method to my madness.
People gather around the bar for drinks… perfect time for small talk (re: your elevator speech). People will probably be in line for food (also, re: elevator speech). It’s easy to ask a simple question like, “oh, what beer is that? I don’t think I’ve tried that one”, or to make a relatable comment like, “those meatballs were so good, I had to get another round”, in those situations.
Other shy people will also be hanging around the food, so you can connect with them on your mutual fish out of water feelings.
Start the Conversation
I like to stand by the food, bar, or cool artwork by the wall and have people come to me. I’m lazy. But sometimes, you have to be the one to start a conversation. It’s scary, but you can do this.
My favorite way to start a conversation is to complement someone on something superficial; hair, jewelry, shoes, lipstick color, interesting tie tack… you name it. As much as we all say that we don’t judge on appearances, we all LOVE to be told that something about our look is awesome. Just, don’t be creepy about it… so no heavy breathing or drooling. A simple “I love that necklace! Where did you get it?” can start a conversation. From there, you introduce yourself, throw out your elevator speech, and bam… you’re talking to people!
Ideally, through the course of the conversation you should be able to find similar interests. This could be similar industries, mutual acquaintances, something they can help you with, something you can help them with, or even just both being die hard Hanson fans. Finding these things has two benefits; it helps you relax because you’re on the same level as that person and it gives you something to talk about when you follow up later.
It’s OK If You Just Sit There, But You CAN Do This
Trust me, you’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed and like you want to puke on that dude’s amazing shoes. Sometimes fucky brain gets the best of you and you just can’t fake being personable. I’ve been there. It’s totally ok to just observe. Or sit near a group of people and just listen.
For me, doing the prep work is a big part of making me feel less anxious going in to these things, because I know I have a handful of things in my back pocket that I can pull out to use. With that being said, I still usually take a bathroom break to try to calm my nerves at least once per event.
Setting some minor expectations for myself helps me; I almost turn it in to a game. To level up at peopling, I need to get 3 business cards, start 2 conversations, or stay for 45 minutes without crying. Once that achievement is unlocked, I up the expectations for the next time.
I really encourage you to set a goal to talk to at least one other person. But you know what, you showed up and that’s fucking awesome! Now you know you can do that! Next time, you can build from there.
Full disclosure, I’m often not the best at this, but it’s probably the most important step as far as business networking goes. If you want proper advice, I recommend this article from Network Under 40. If you want my method, read below.
If this is someone I want to work with or meet up with, I email them the next morning. The message is usually something along the lines of “Nice to meet you at [Event Name], Had a great conversation about [Conversation], would love to get together and discuss it more, when are you free?”
If this is a social connection, I’ll follow them on whatever social media they’ve offered and like the posts from the event. Bonus points if you leave them a comment like, “It was great to meet you last night [emojis]!”. If you took pictures of the event with them in it, MAKE SURE TO TAG THEM!
On that note, make sure to tag your location, hosts, sponsors, and the location’s account if you post anything on social media about the event. #digitalnetworking
I will also use those business cards I collect and make connections on LinkedIn for both personal and professional.
Learning to network is a process. Some people are wonderfully extroverted and take to this like eating and breathing. The rest of us pack an extra deodorant in our purse to combat the stress sweat we get just getting there. Just like anything, it gets less scary the more you do it and ultimately can enhance your life by giving you additional resources to use in many areas of your life. You might even make a friend or two.