Nothing strikes fear into my professional heart like networking. I dread it! I would rather file documents, make cold calls, or present to a room of 300, before attending a networking activity. It shocks me how much fear this activity creates for me. I’m a social person – I know how to make and keep friends, I’m not an introvert, I speak up readily in meetings and I’m an engaging conversationalist. I should feel like I’ve got this.
In the last month, I have caught myself in two networking experiences: One a planned event for young professionals, the other an unexpected opportunity during a training I attended. I struggled in both situations. My approach? Identify the nicest, most welcoming person in the room. Walk up to them, or interject myself into a discussion. Focus on the icebreaker question the group was given. Then, the biggest challenge – say something intelligent without being overly confident or phony. Even with this straightforward strategy, I still felt anxious. I was preoccupied by the unnaturalness of this interaction, and hoped that the other person didn’t give me a weird look, or share an answer that made mine sound ridiculous.
Weeks later, I came across a blog that may have prepared me better for those moments. Looking for a Summer Project? Start Networking! My first reaction was yuck, networking exclamation point, I think not. I want boating to be my summer project. After a few eye rolls, I opened my mind, read the blog, and found five very practical tips to make networking less painful.
The author, Rachel Scott, offered suggestions that I feel I can really use for my next networking opportunity. She suggests preparing a “thirty second sound bite” of what to say about myself. I like this. It’s short and sweet. This approach gets the talking about me out of the way, and allows me to re-focus on what I, as a counselor, do best – listen to others.
Another suggestion I’ll start incorporating is using social media to network for me. I’m not quite a millennial, but I am one of those people who plays with their smartphone during awkward downtimes. As an example, the 10-minute break for stretching during a seminar is a gold mine to a natural networker. Since striking up conversation with other participants isn’t within my comfort zone, I can still live-tweet about the experience and connect with others in attendance, coping with networking discomfort in the same way.
If you consider yourself a natural networker, I would love to hear from you. Please share your tips in the comments section. Otherwise, I’ll just go back to focusing on boating.
Kate N., MS, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor, then became a Performance Specialist in 2012. Kate has a master’s degree in Educational Psychology and is devoted to helping individuals determine how to make lasting changes. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked in the social work field as a case manager for Child Protective Services. Kate enjoys baking, yoga and escaping into the woods of Northern Wisconsin.