For the shy and/or introverted, a networking event can be as close to hell as an empty room is to a socialite. So why would we – the introverted – face that torture? Simple, human interaction is a fact of life.
There are many activities in life that resemble networking events:
- Parties (including weddings and funerals)
- Family reunions
- First day of school
- First day on the job
We walk into rooms of people – the number of strangers being variable – all the time. Some people manage it with aplomb, others of us … not so much.
Rooms Full of People
When it comes to walking into that room full of people, my first instinct tends to be to leave as quickly as possible, or, at least, to find a corner to hide in where only people I know will find me. Alas, as a business owner, that’s not an option – even at family events.
So, how do I cope? By helping. Actually, I become the help.
Networking and business books around the world will tell you that by acting like a host – instead of a guest – networking is easier. The point is that if you go to an event and think about others first, your own nervousness tends to dissipate. The prime example of how to act like a host is to become a member of your Chamber of Commerce’s Ambassador team. My problem with that idea is that I’m not a member of the Chamber of Commerce, and I don’t want to be.
Bar Tending Fun
How do I help? Generally, I go to events where I know the organizers and can offer assistance with set up, clean up, whatever. Early in Tora’s existence, I was already at the venue where an event I would be attending was being held. So, when the furniture started to move, I started to help. I ended up getting the bar table ready and wines corked. Because I was standing there looking like I knew what I was doing, I started pouring wine for early arrivals. I ended up the bartender for the evening. It made conversation so much easier because it was already started before any words were spoken.
Since I regularly went to their events and helped get things set up, I was soon the unofficial bartender (I’ve even been named the Victory Workspace “Badass Bartender”). What’s fun is that people began to recognize me. I started having conversations like:
“You look familiar, how do I know you?”
“Well, have you ever had someone at Victory Workspace pour you a glass of wine?”
“Actually, yes! At the event last week.”
“Well, that was me pouring.”
The added benefit is that I’m “allowed” to put a stack of my cards on the “bar” to help nudge the work-related conversation along.
If I can’t help at the bar, I’ll help in the kitchen. Again, because I lean towards events where I already know at least the organizers, I can generally find a task that allows me to interact with people without having to start a conversation from scratch. For me, that’s the hardest part of networking.
Aside from having instant made conversation topics, by being known as someone willing to lend a hand, I’ve made friends with people who are willing to introduce me around. This can ease some of the pressure I feel when there is a person I want to meet yet am having a hard time getting myself to talk to them.
Next time you’re out networking – or just at a gathering – and begin to feel the urge to flee, ask how you can help. Bar tender, coat check, and selling raffle tickets, are just a few ways you can network without feeling so much of the “work” part.
– Lorrie Nicoles