This past week I had a dreaded experience. I signed up to attend a “speed mentoring” event during Philly Tech Week. After I signed up for all of the week’s activities I decided to sign up for speed mentoring. I am not a person who is afraid of organic networking, but I do loathe networking events.
When I arrived at the event, we had to sign in and were given color-coded name tags. Each color represented the reason for you being at the event – Looking for a Job, Company or Sponsor, Networking, or Speaker.
The tags increased my anxiety. As I slipped into the group mentoring session where you talk with people and explain your idea, I found that our group had a specific topic and it broke the ice of feeling awkward. After this introduction, I was immediately asked to speak about the idea I was working on and each person gave their feedback concerning it.
It felt awkward at first, but I needed their thoughts on my progress. Expressing my ideas to complete strangers was uncomfortable, but these were fresh ears who could listen and give honest critique. My anxieties heightened the explanation I gave, but I was able to calm my nerves while they offered their feedback.
All my anxieties were based on fear of acceptance and fitting in. This form of networking forced me into an uncomfortable position, but proved to very beneficial. Having these fresh ears available to me opened my perspective and caused me to think about things I never imagined. After I finished speaking, new people that joined the group were taken through the same strategy.
After I was done hearing their thoughts and ideas, I walked around to introduce myself to new people, so that I could find out more about them. Networking events are incredible because everyone has the same purpose – to connect. Connecting can be intimating, but it’s our responsibility to push past fear and connect anyway. If you have anxieties about networking events, you can choose to use them as the perfect opportunities they are for you to get over the worry you are experiencing.
At this networking event, I learned the value of listening. When you are at a networking event you are there to learn about people and also learn how you can benefit them, someone you know, or yourself.
No one is more fascinating than a good listener.
If you aren’t fully present, you won’t be a good listener. I went into the event to find a coder and came out with a UX designer. He loved my idea and found me later on. He took extra time to walk me through a suggested user experience that I didn’t think about. He listened to me and I listened to him. We both let pure strangers into each other’s world and benefitted from the experience.
We didn’t allow our anxieties of networking events stop us from connecting. We used this event to connect and tell each other how we could repay each other for our services and what friends we had that could benefit the other person. Networking is simply connecting with people. In order for your networking to be successful you must overcome anxiety, be a good listener, and offer something in return. I encourage you to download the MeetUp app and sign up for a networking event in your city and career field. You will be surprised how your anxieties will diminish and how welcoming your fellow networkers are.
If your networking is only asking for the sale, it won’t bear fruit. You need to consider investing in the relationship for some time down the road, when you’ve earned the right to ask for something. -Seth Godin
Adam Smith says
Great story, Christina! That’s awesome! I have never been to a speed mentoring session. Networking is a great thing, that sometimes gets overlooked. I love the Godin quote. That’s networking done right.
Erik Tyler says
I think, whether a networking event or just any social gathering or situation in which we interact with others, a lot of the pressure comes from trying to appear to be something we’re not. We hope we’re not going to seem less intelligent, less professional, less important, less successful … just “less.” One of the best strategies I recommend is to just be honest. Rather than pretending to know what you don’t know (or worrying that you’ll be found out), just tell it like it is:
“I’m new to these events and I’m a little nervous about what to expect or how to interact.”
“I have to be honest and say I don’t know much about [topic someone just brought up], but I’d love to hear your take on it and learn something.”
You’d be surprised how many people will sigh with relief and say, “Thank God! I feel exactly the same way!” or they’ll smile and be more than happy to talk from wherever you are starting.
This just makes LIFE a lot easier.