There's something about networking events that really frightens me. Even though I know it's part of my job to connect with other people, I dread small talk and can get very uncomfortable. Finding ways to not be awkward at a networking event has been on my to-do list for quite some time, and thankfully, I was able to connect with a few therapists on how to get better at it (instead of, you know, hanging by the food table or becoming BFF with someone's dog).
"If you’re worried you wouldn’t be prepared to sell yourself, you’re not alone. 46 percent of the professionals we recently surveyed admitted they would not feel confident in effectively describing their achievements if they chanced upon their dream employer on the street," said LinkedIn Career Expert Catherine Fisher in an LinkedIn blog post. "In fact, 86 percent of recruitment decision makers agree it’s important that candidates can clearly communicate achievements," Fisher continued.
You don't have to be intimated the next time you go to a networking event. It's just not worth it. So if you're anything like me and want to get better at networking, here are 15 ways to overcome awkwardness and network like a champ.
1. Pose Like Wonder Woman
While this pose might be silly to do in front of other people, it's a great trick to do before you head into your networking event. "Prior to the event, do what Amy Cuddy [said] on her Ted Talk on Power Posing, which is for two [whole] minutes, pose like Wonder Woman. Her research shows that this increases testosterone and reduces cortisol (stress hormone). Fake it until you make it," says career coach Jill MacFadyen in an interview with Bustle over email.
2. Ask Questions
People usually love to talk about themselves. That's why it's a good idea to ask questions when you start to feel awkward. This tactic will keep the spotlight on the other person. You may even find something in common and chime in when it's your turn to speak. "During the event, remember that other people love to talk about themselves, so ask them questions. Be curious. Ask advice. What brought them to the event? What are they enjoying? What other events do they like? What do they think of the speaker? Of the venue? Of the Food? Where do the live? Work? What sort of work are they seeking (if it is that type of event)?" says MacFadyen
3. Learn To Relax
It's easy to feel overwhelmed when you're uncomfortable, but it's important to remember to relax so you don't look scared and uninterested while you're at the event. "During the event, remember to breathe and smile. Even if you are alone in a corner, relax. It is okay. Look over the crowd and seem interested," says MacFadyen.
4. Connect With Someone Who's Alone
The next time you go to a networking event, try to find someone who also went alone. Ask them questions and find commonality between the two of you. You'll most likely feel relaxed if you have an acquaintance at the event. "Choose someone else who might seem alone and go talk to that person," says MacFadyen.
5. Know Your Stuff
One of the best ways to sell yourself to other people is by knowing your market. Do a little research before the event, so you won't feel intimidated when people ask you thought-provoking questions. "Meeting people is so much easier when you have something in common to discuss. Every networking event is built around an industry or a specific purpose. If you are headed to a networking event for real estate, know your market. If you’re headed to a lobbying event, know about the most debated piece of legislation," says founder and CEO of Swell Caroline Amy Rodbell in an interview with Bustle over email.
6. Ask The Event Organizers To Introduce You To Someone
Sometimes all you need is a little push in the right direction. Have the courage to ask the event organizer to introduce you to someone so you can make an acquaintance while you're at the event. "Another great way to meet people if [you're] flying solo is to tell one of the event organizers that you are new. Ask them to introduce you to a few people they feel you would benefit from meeting. The event staff is responsible that attendees get value out of the time and money spent to attend, so they will have a vested interest in lighting the path for you," says Rodbell.
7. Head To The Bathroom Or Food Table
"The bar or food table is typically a good option, or if you’re feeling really awkward, head to the ladies room and chat it up in line. Once you make an acquaintance, it is much easier to include others to your conversation," says Rodbell. Don't be shy. Open up once your next to the food table by asking easy, non-threatening questions. Hopefully this will spark a good conversation and you'll leave the event with a great contact.
8. Listen When People Speak
When you do get to speak with someone, make sure you listen. Give them your full attention by making eye contact and responding with thoughtful answers when they ask you a question. Whatever you do, don't scan the room. It can make the other person feel unimportant. "The most important nugget I can share with you is to listen! After taking all the effort to meet new people, open your ears to what they have to say. Industry folks who regularly attend networking meetings can be an excellent resource for you. Most will have insider knowledge from all of the people they have met along the way and probably have an extensive network of industry friends and acquaintances," says Rodbell.
9. Show Gratitude
"If you meet someone you particularly enjoy or someone who is unusually helpful or attentive to you, always show gratitude after the fact. Ask for their business card and send them a quick note that you were glad to meet and one of your business cards. Email works fine for this, but snail mail works better!" says Rodbell. It always feels great to finally get along with someone at a networking event. Try to connect with them after the event by grabbing a cup of coffee or sending them an email that shows your appreciation.
10. Don't Use Your Phone
If you go to a networking event alone, try not to rely on your phone when you feel lonely. People won't come up to you if they think you might be doing something important on your phone. "One rule of caution, networking events are about socializing in real life, not virtual reality. Resist the temptation to stand to the side and surf your cell phone. It may help calm your nerves in the moment, but you won’t get a thing out of the event, which is the reason you went in the first place," says Rodbell.
11. Look Happy And Stay Positive
Smile. Smile. Smile. This is one of the best ways to engage with other people. It's easier to approach someone who looks happy, then someone who doesn't look like they're having a good time. "With a smile and a firm handshake, all you need to say is 'Hi, I’m Jody, founder of Jody Michael Associates' to initiate a conversation. Both the event itself and industry-related news are good conversation starters. Look at the person’s name tag; ask open-ended questions about their company or position. Offer relevant and interesting information about yourself, inviting a conversation thread," says CEO and founder of Jody Michael Associates Jody Michael.
12. Talk Positively To Yourself
Don't beat yourself up if you're not succeeding at small talk. As long as you're trying your best, then you're doing just fine. "To ease your anxiety, bear in mind that you’re going to be meeting people with similar interests. The other people in the room are there to network as well — and everyone was new at one time! Resist the urge to sabotage your own confidence by negative self-talk. Watch the messages you tell yourself; your thoughts influence your moods and impact your behaviors," says Michael.
13. Show Interest In Others
"Set an intention to be curious and interested in others. Find the person who is sitting alone, or looks the least comfortable in the room and approach them. By helping them feel more comfortable, you take the focus off your own discomfort," says Michael. I guarantee that other people feel just as awkward as you do when they're at a networking event. Take a moment to scan the room and find that person who looks uncomfortable, too. They will appreciate your kindness and will most likely talk with you if you approach them.
14. Be Authentic
Don't try to be someone else. You got invited to this event because they like you! Be yourself and you'll do just fine. "Trying to pretend you’re someone you’re not always backfires. Be your authentic self — but with strategy and intent. Know your personal brand; how do you want to 'show up,' not just in this room, but in the world?" says Michael.
15. Tweak Your Somatic Communication
The way you present yourself can determine how other people view you and how you feel about yourself. You can gain more confidence if you stand up straight, keep your head held high, and smile when other people look at you. "The best 'trick' is the one you play on yourself. By tweaking your somatic communication (which includes your posture, tone of voice, gestures, etc.), you can exude confidence — to the point that you convince yourself. Maintain a strong posture, soft (but not averted) eye contact and a pleasant (audible, but not too loud!) tone of voice. While it might feel awkward or forced at first, practicing it — over and over — helps it become more natural," says Michael.
You don't have to be awkward when you're at a networking event. Just be yourself, ask lots of questions, and think positive. Other people want to connect with you, so enjoy the experience and don't forget to bring your business cards. Good luck!