By Amari D. Pollard
If you’re a socially awkward person (and who isn’t at some point, really), the word “networking” probably sends fierce chills through your body. Speaking to strangers? Attempting to make new friends? Forget about it! Unfortunately though, networking is essential if you want to move up in your career. But don’t panic—these tricks will help you fake the confidence you need at that next business mixer.
Stop overanalyzing everything.
So you’re the kind of person who gets nervous easily, and when you do, you clam up. But no one’s going to approach you if you look stiff and uptight, so try to relax if you can. If you’re at an event that offers some form of alcohol, grab a glass or two (just know your limits!). Remember: You’re actually pretty fun when you’re not overthinking everything.
Find natural conversation starters.
Never underestimate the power of a good accessory. I have a multicolor-chained choker that I love wearing to networking events because it always draws compliments. If you wear something bold or unique, it invites conversation—and that initial point of connection has a way of segueing into other topics, like your interests and what you love writing about.
If wearing something bold isn’t your style, brainstorm recent articles or magazine issues you enjoyed before you leave for the event. Editors and writers are constantly consuming content and they love discussing great pieces of journalism. Bringing them up in conversation is easy as saying, “I can’t stop thinking about this incredible article I read in _______ magazine. Have you seen it?” There’s nothing random or unnatural about talking content with media people.
And news flash: Lots of us think we’re socially awkward and awful at networking, which makes the topic a perfect conversation starter. You can bond over your shared networking anxieties and have a completely normal conversation—that will probably reveal you’re both not as bad at networking as you think!
Think quality over quantity.
There’s this idea that you’ve somehow failed at a networking if you walk away from an event with one business card instead of five. But really, networking is a lot like speed-dating—making one genuine connection can be worth several artificial ones. Rather than forcing yourself to say hi to everyone at the event, try to let connections happen naturally. Take note of people’s body language while you’re talking, and if you meet someone who is actively engaging in conversation and not trying to slip away, stick around and see what happens.
Listen and observe.
At the end of the day, most people just want to be heard in some capacity and know that someone has paid attention to their words. Take mental notes while making connections and send follow-up emails and/or handwritten notes the next day that not only say how much you enjoyed their conversation, but that also bring up specific points they made that resonated with you.
Become the connector.
It’s plausible that part of the reason networking makes you so nervous is because you have no control over the setting. But you can take some of the pressure off by setting up a networking event of your own. Once you feel you have enough connections, host a casual get together at your apartment or in a local cafe (game night, anyone?). This will help you develop deeper bonds with your connections and give them the chance to meet one another. Good luck!
Amari D. Pollard is a Syracuse-based social media producer at Advance Media New York. She has written pieces for Parents, Popsugar, Elite Daily and Inside Lacrosse. She’s a news junkie obsessed with her collection of glasses, vintage shopping, and brunching. Check out her work at amaridawn.com and follow her slightly above average life on Instagram and Twitter.