Stop the Trauma of Networking Events
I'd rather be on the couch with my dog and a glass of wine.
Picture it. High school, 1995 (spoken in my best Sophia Patrillo voice). I arrive late to lunch and face the dreaded thought of where I’m going to sit. I anxiously peruse the cafeteria looking for open seats or familiar faces. Nothing. There I stand – alone and awkward, holding my tray filled with a dry flatbread cheese pizza, 4 oily green beans and a carton of milk. It’s too late to back out now.
I pretend to catch someone’s eye in the back corner and head over. The entire time, my brace faced jaw is clenched, and I can feel a lump forming in my throat as my palms begin to sweat. How the hell am I going to get out of this? What’s my out? This is awful. I’m never eating again.
Fast-forward ten years. I’m walking into a room full of strangers at one of my first professional networking events, and the same feelings arise. But now I’m twenty-five, college educated, braces are off, I’m wearing heels and I’m a grown-up. So why do I feel fifteen again? Why am I as nervous as I was ten years ago?
Because networking is about as fun as standing in line for a $200 60” TV, in twenty-degree weather, on Black Friday. You get my point? No one wants to do it, but somewhere, at some point, someone pressured you into believing you had to. But what if there was a better way to buy the TV?
Is networking important in order to grow your business, acquire new clients and meet new people? Absolutely. But if you’ve been doing it the traditional way, you’ll understand the metaphors I’ve been using.
Entering a room full of strangers where the intention is to meet new people, talk about yourself, and get to know others, is just awful. I’m an outgoing, professionally-trained interviewer, coach, and people person, and the thought of attending some of these events makes me cringe.
Now that I’m over thirty-five years old and have attended hundreds of events, I’ve learned a thing or two about making them as painless as possible.
Always Have a Back-Pocket Story
A back-pocket story is a funny, quick, pre-rehearsed anecdote you’ve either made up or has actually happened. I know it sounds cheesy, but it works. Cut the crap with asking about the weather, talking about football or the potholes in the road. For. The. Love.
I’m going to go out on a ledge here and make an assumption that 99% of the people attending these networking events don’t want to be there. It’s been a long day, and they’d rather be on their couch with a cocktail. Which leads me to a perfect example of a back-pocket story. What do you think would happen if you entered a room, found a group of people and said, “I’m going to be honest, it’s been a heck of a long day and I’d be lying if I said a pair of sweatpants, a glass of Merlot and my couch isn’t calling my name right now.” Boom. Laughter ensues and you’ve made yourself very relatable. Now you’ve got their attention. Now you will be remembered.
Back-pocket stories are actually very easy to create. The more honest and authentic, the better. I can think of ten off the top of my head as I go through my day. For example, “I’m Gina, it’s nice to meet you, and I apologize if I seem a little out of it, but I’m mentally battling ordering pizza versus making salmon when I get home. Chances are, pizza is going to win.”
Make an Impact
Now that the ice is broken, let other people start talking about their day in a lighthearted way. Regardless of what transpires from there, you’ve made an impact. That should be your only intention when attending networking events. Not a sell, not a business card exchange, an impact.
When you begin to rethink networking events and approach them in a different manner, they will become much more enjoyable and beneficial in creating long-lasting, lucrative relationships. I promise you.
President & CEO