Although I spent (what felt like) forever in school studying public relations and marketing, terms like “networking” and “personal branding” always seemed so pretentious and entirely unnecessary. Considering I now give regular presentations on these exact topics, that mindset is just a little embarrassing to think about.
As a public relations professional, deep community involvement and - gasp! - networking events are a required part of my job; it is even written into my company’s code of culture. Most people that know me, personally AND professionally, would believe that I jump at the chance to attend galas, fundraisers, pop-up shops...you name it. I am very loud and seemingly as social as humanly possible. (Just ask the six other twenty-something women who share 1,000 square feet of workspace with me for 40+ hours a week.)
I truly love public speaking on topics that excite me--everything from digital content strategy to internet memes--and I could talk on the phone with friends for hours. Despite these traits, I actually have very real social anxiety. The idea of walking into a room jam-packed with already acquainted people and just making my way into a crowd terrifies me.
The digital world doesn’t excuse us from human interaction. Attention spans are diminishing by the second; I get it. But connecting face to face is still a highly effective and often necessary way to meet others in similar industries that will help hone your craft.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned a few very useful ways to genuinely connect with other like-minded professionals while minimizing the awkward interactions (and anxiety) that might accompany this feat. These have truly helped me to forge meaningful relationships in ways that work for my personality as an extroverted introvert.
The Power of the Meaningful Compliment
A few years ago, I vowed to spend a month dishing out at least one compliment a day to someone I spoke with in passing. My goals were simple: to help others feel great about themselves, as you never know what a person might be going through on any given day, while also becoming a more positive person. It quickly occurred to me that I could extend this philosophy to networking events.
While circulating a room, I might stop to tell a fellow #GirlBoss how fabulous I think her earrings are. Let’s be real for a second: do you or do you not instantly favor any new person who takes the time to notice a detail that you probably agonized over that morning? We all enjoy discreet positive attention. It’s human nature.
The key is to be genuine and not go overboard. Acknowledge that great feature once, allow that to flow into an introduction, and before you know it, you’re chatting about your latest project with your favorite non-profit. And the semi-annual sale at Nordstrom.
At a recent event hosted by a young professional group, I mustered the courage to tell the stranger seated next to me that I had just purchased the same wedges she was sporting. Fifteen minutes later, we had already exchanged hilarious work stories. An hour in, we were Facebook friends comparing schedules to ensure we crossed paths at the next planned event.
Psychoanalyze Yourself: Remembering the Good, the Bad and the Awkward
As weird as it might sound, I often leave networking opportunities harping on the interactions that were just plain annoying. It helps to understand why my conversations with those people didn’t sit well with me. Sometimes it’s a simple personality clash, but more often than not I recognize a small action they took that seemed disingenuous or off-putting, and ultimately I made a mental note to avoid that person at the next event.
A guy recently threw himself into my conversation at a cocktail hour to discuss his company’s services. He did not seem concerned at all with disrupting a great conversation and simply would not let up. I now refer to this as “stray cat syndrome." It made me acutely aware of the manner in which I discuss my job as a communications strategist.
If something about a new contact really bothers you, take a moment to think about why. Have a “come to the universe” moment on your drive home from the event. It might really help in your networking endeavors--chances are, if someone’s approach truly didn’t sit well with you, you’re not the only one who might feel that way in that situation.
LinkedIn: A Friend A Day
Earlier this year, I attended a great presentation by a Harvard-trained marketing professor/entrepreneur who shared his personal strategy on business development and online networking. Every single day, he takes five minutes to send a brief message to one of his LinkedIn connections, chosen at random, asking how they’re doing. Sometimes they’ll update him on a recent project and trade tips or advice; sometimes, nothing happens. But every once in awhile, a connection may say, “I’m so glad you messaged me today! I was just considering hiring some outside marketing help for XYZ project. It’s perfect that you got in touch.”
Though not “in person,” I still love this idea. People love to feel special, and this is a great way to let someone know you might be thinking of them. Plus, you never know when the stars might align and present the opportune moment to connect with a distant colleague over a meaningful project.