Raise your hand if you have ever hidden in the bathroom at a networking event. I’m raising both hands, my friends! I am one of those people that you would likely label an extrovert without hesitation. But in reality, I am an extroverted introvert who experiences her fair share of nervousness in social situations.
Being able to engage in memorable, meaningful conversations is hugely influential in the direction that your career moves, especially in our face-to-face-focused industry. Every win I have experienced in my career began a total stranger that grew into an authentic relationship.
Over the years, I have discovered and embraced the following strategies to help conquer my nerves and make me a more confident conversationalist:
I just walked into a room and I don’t see anyone I know. Do I really have to stay?
Yes! This is the perfect opportunity to get uncomfortable, face your fear of small talk with strangers and invest in building your network. The beauty of networking is that the more people you meet, the more those connections introduce you to their own circles, making the introductions easier, more efficient and less scary. You have to start somewhere!
I know I need to establish a relationship with our CEO, but I don’t know what to say.
We get so wrapped up in finding the right words to use that we either avoid conversations altogether or forget to say what we spent far too long overthinking. There is no doubt that establishing a relationship with those in leadership is a great way to set yourself up for success, but we often forget a simple fact: Executives are people too. Every senior leader has their own unique background, experiences, strengths, mistakes and fears. Ask executives questions that show a genuine interest in them as people and find common ground to build your conversation from.
I like to get my conversational juices flowing with a glass of wine. That’s cool, right?
Girl, yes. You have yourself that glass of wine, just know your limits. You don’t want to end up as the topic of conversation the next day for the wrong reasons. Make sure you hold your beverage with your left hand to avoid being the cause of a wet, cringeworthy handshake.
They forgot my name … again. Am I that unimportant?
If you have met Bob three times before and Bob never seems to remember your name, try not to take it personally. Bob may not be great with names. However, it is important to always step up your networking game and that includes the importance of memorability. The questions you ask, your body language, and how well you follow up with the person after the interaction concludes will all play a part in how your counterpart remembers you.
I noticed that my coworker is painfully shy, and it causes group conversations to become awkward. Should I ditch him/her?
Use this opportunity to level up your leadership with a focus on inclusive networking. Regardless of whether you know everyone in the group conversation or not, make it a point to engage those who are on the quieter side. Their participation may spark new points in the dialogue and will build a greater appreciation for and deeper connection with you.
This is your party, so stop hiding and be the host you really are.
One of the best mental tricks I play to get myself out of a social anxiety funk is to tell myself that the networking event I’m attending is actually my event. And as a good hostess, it is my duty and pleasure to ensure that each guest feels welcome. When you shift the focus from your own experience to making someone else’s evening enjoyable, you not only push past your nervousness, but you also become a better listener and are able to build stronger, more meaningful connections.
Even the seemingly most confident people struggle to connect with others in new environments. If you feel like making a great escape to the bathroom at your next networking event, take a moment to reset your mentality. Remind yourself that growth doesn’t happen when you’re comfortable and that every new conversation is an investment in your career (and your life!). Plus, you’re fabulous, so who wouldn’t want to meet you? Choose to not get in your own way and allow people see how phenomenal you are.