Professional Networking – Facing The Room

This series of posts on building your personal networking skills is meant to serve a couple of purposes. If you remember from one of my first posts I’m hoping that skilled networkers may pick up a gem or two to add to their understanding. These posts also serve those who are not good at networking and those who know they need to network and have been afraid to take the first steps. So, much of this starts at the very beginning, laying the ground work and a foundation to build on. This probably doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway: I work in the IT field, and many of the folks in IT, especially the technologists, may not have the best…er…social skills? That is really my intended audience. I learned a bunch of this the hard way, and I want to help out my colleagues so they can learn from my mistakes.
So I get behind the wheel of my car, I turn the key and turn off my brain, and I let my body take me on autopilot to the networking event I want to attend.  I have to do this.  If I think about it too much I’ll probably find a reason to talk myself out of going.  “I’m sure that I *have* to caulk around the bathtub tonight.  It simply can’t wait another day.”

I arrive, park the car, keep my mind on autopilot (hoping I remember to actually lock the doors) and walk into the venue.  Again, I don’t want to give myself an opportunity to back out.  I would suggest planning on meeting a friend or colleague at the event as another layer of accountability to make sure you get there.  This is only a suggestion, as I find that 70% of the time that I do this my friend doesn’t show.  I still wind up there alone.  And, man, its tough walking into a room of people that you don’t know when you’re all alone.  I look in.  Everyone knows everyone else.  Nobody knows me.  And I have a banner “ineptitude” flying over my head.

This describes me.  Seriously.  Maybe not all the time anymore, but, yes, from time to time.  I still find myself pacing the hall before an event literally talking to myself saying, “Just talk, Andy.  Just talk.”  Then I dive in.  Like entering a swimming pool, you have to jump in.  Otherwise the event will be over if you just get your feet wet and take it slowly.

“But I’m shy!” Yes, and I’d agree that this is a real and pressing issue. Stanford has a Shyness Clinic.  Smaller families, video games, and suburbs have caused all of us to spend more time alone or in less social situations.  We may not have been shown, and we may not be showing our kids, how to interact naturally in social situations.  Understand that shyness is a habit and not a disease.  Just like you can learn to stop picking your nose, you can learn to deal with your shyness by unlearning the habits that put you there.

Bottom line?  You’re not alone.  I would bet if you asked some of the most social people around you, the folks that you think are networking gods, if they’ve always been social, that most of them would say, “no,” and that they had to face some difficult challenges to teach themselves how to break the ice with others and create for themselves an environment they can function comfortably in.

So, tell us.  How do you feel when you face a room full of strangers?



~ by Andy on June 20, 2008.

3 Responses to “Professional Networking – Facing The Room”

  1. How do I feel? Exactly like you described, plus scared and intimidated.
    I like that swimming pool analogy, you just have to jump in. Sure, you could timidly wade in over time, but that just prolongs the shock of the water. By jumping right in, you get that initial shock, but you will soon find you get use to it. Before long, become use to the temperature and you wonder why you ever afraid to jump in. At that point, you start prodding everyone else that is still standing outside the pool, tell them “It’s not *that* bad! Come on in!”
    Of course, the next time you visit the pool, you are just as intimidated by the water as you were the last time. That fear never goes away, but experience tells you that you just need to get it over with.

    …once again, another great post, Andy.

  2. Andy, great post. I agree, networking is something that can be learnt. And the initial few events will be interesting. It’s the same as making your first presentation at a conference. You do a few and then you no longer have the same level of pre-presentation anxiety. Growing up I wouldn’t call myself a social person. I interacted to the extent needed. Walking up to a stranger and introducing myself was ruled out, or for that matter entering a room full of strangers. I started my networking not because I wanted to network. I started as a consultant and was ineterested in understanding the business and technical domain. That brought me in touch with many people. The more I did the more people I knew. Then I started getting involving in running businesses and that brought me in touch with even more people. Now it is fun to walk into a roomful of strangers, walking up to them, introducing myself and having a chat. And the same goes with presentations. For those who are anxious about networking, find Andy or myself at any networking event and we will be glad to introduce you to others so you can feel at ease. As Andy said, knowing someone beforehand at the event or coming with someone helps too, you just have to make sure you don’t spend all your time with only those you know. Go out of your way and get to know people. You will be surprised how receptive, eager and inquisitive others are when you introduce yourself. Don’t worry about or rehearse what you are going to say after you introduce yourself. Conversation just starts. It may not sound true but it really does happen. During my early professional years I was advised on two things for different situations when I had asked those who had done it before – First one: Always ask. The worst that can happen is you will get “No” for an answer. But if you don’t ask you will be missing out on a lot of opportunities. Second one: You have been invited to present because they think you have information that others will find useful. So don’t get anxious, just go out there and talk to the audience as if you are explaining one-on-one to someone. There is an audience because they want to hear you, because they know you have something useful to say, otherwise they wouldn’t be there in the first place. In most cases, the audience is forgiving of a speaker and applaud the effort.
    And I can now say that these are true. So those of you who want to get started, I will be eager to meet you at the next event! Get yout there and enjoy!

  3. Great post Andy. I appreciate the tips. You make it look so easy.

    I’m going to take the jump but there will be a lifeguard, right?? 🙂

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