You’re tired. You’ve had a rough day. You’re just not feeling up to giving your elevator pitch 25 times in the span of two hours. And that networking event you’re scheduled to attend tonight is the last place on Earth you’d like to be.
Believe me, you’re not alone. I’ve never met someone who finds networking easy all the time. Extroverts, introverts, shy people, gregarious people: No matter what your personality, there will be a time in your life when you just don’t want to network.
But, if you have to network anyway, you should go in with the right attitude. Whatever the cause of your networking dread, we’ve got the solution. Read below for three common networking pain points—and what to remind yourself to stay strong (tonight!).
1. “I’m Networked Out”
Maybe you’re looking for a new job or are trying to build relationships in a new city—whatever the reason, your schedule has been jam-packed with events lately, and you just want a break.
And sure, sometimes, you should honor that. If you’re truly networked out, it’s totally OK to take a night off. But there are also times when you need to grin and bear it: when you’re dealing with unemployment, when you’ve already skipped three events this week, and when you know this is a really cool opportunity but you just don’t want to go, to name a few.
Remind Yourself: “The Next Person I Talk to Could Change My Life”
At times like this, it’s best to tap into your inner FOMO and remind yourself that, by not going, you could miss out on a life-changing connection. Someone you’ve always wanted to meet could be at this event. The next person you talk to at one of these events could be looking to hire someone exactly like you.
If that’s not enough to motivate you to put your networking shoes on, try basic bribery. Think of what you’d rather be doing instead of going to the event, and set it up as a reward for yourself for after you go. Make sure to set a goal for how many connections you’ll make, too: Say, if you leave the event with three business cards, you’re allowed to meet your friends for a drink or rent a movie for the night. That way, you’ll get some solid networking in but still have time to rejuvenate.
2. “I Never Talk to Anyone Good”
Maybe the reason you want to avoid this next networking event is that you feel like they’re always fruitless. You show up, get a drink or some snacks to keep yourself occupied, maybe chat for a few minutes with a couple people, but never leave with the seeds of any meaningful relationships. Besides the free food and booze, you just don’t see the value in going through this again.
Remind Yourself: “People Want to Know Me as Much as I Want to Know Them”
This is my biggest networking pain point, so I understand. Especially if you’re a little shy or unsure of yourself, it can be a hard one to overcome.
I’ve found one of the best ways to push past this is to remind yourself that, yes you’re interesting and people will want to get to know you, but only as much as you want to get to know them. More importantly, people will want to get to know you more if you look like you want to get to know them.
Translation: If you’re hovering by the snack table looking unhappy and glancing up at the clock every so often to see how much longer until you can go, you’re not exactly inviting people to approach you. And you’re not helping anyone — least of all yourself.
But, if you remind yourself of this point, step out into the middle of the room, stand tall, and smile, you’ve done almost all of the work. People will likely start approaching you. And then, if you actively listen and stay engaged, the conversation will likely keep rolling. Even if you barely say a word, they’ll leave with a great impression of you. People like to feel like they’re being listened to. They don’t like to feel like you don’t want to be there. Simple as that.
3. “I’m Sick of the Small Talk”
If you have to ask one more person, “So, what brings you here tonight?” you’re going to flip. You know that relationship-building involves a certain amount of getting to know each other, but you’re just sick and tired of the surface-level chit-chat that seems to fill the time at most networking events.
Remind Yourself: “Networking Doesn’t Have to Be Schmoozing”
If this is your current pain point with networking, there are a couple of solutions. First, try updating your repertoire of networking conversation starters. By approaching the conversation with a more unusual question, you might get somewhere more interesting than “What do you do?” and “Where are you from?”
Or, it may be time to mix up your venues for building these relationships. Remember, not all networking has to happen at cocktail hour types of events. In fact, some of the most interesting relationship-building can happen elsewhere. So, instead of looking for your run-of-the-mill events, see if there’s a conference you can attend, a hackathon or similar event you can participate in, or even a project you can help with. These sorts of events will put you in a much more collaborative environment that will allow you to get to know people in a different way than by simply drilling them with questions.
I know: Nothing I can tell you will make networking easy all of the time. But with these mantras in mind, you should be able to walk into your next networking event with the right attitude—and walk out with a big stack of business cards.