I hope I’m not the only person who feels this way, but I find social interaction pretty exhausting.
Don’t get me wrong; I love my friends and family, and once I’ve hauled myself out of the house and into some kind of social event, I tend to have a great time. People wouldn’t guess from looking at me that inside my brain rages a storm of social awkwardness.
I am constantly caught between wanting to make conversation with people, make friends, make business connections! – And wanting to run home and put on the kettle and my fluffy pink dressing gown.
I’m one of those people who are painfully self-aware when in a room full of strangers – the way I walk suddenly feels unnatural, I find myself wishing that I’d attempted to tame my hair a bit more before leaving the house, and before I know it my brain is working so hard to form a witty, engaging sentence that it decides to say “cheers” and “thanks” at the same time so that I end up saying “CHANKS!” to someone. Yes, this actually happened to me a few weeks ago. Way to go, brain. You’re lucky I was only in a supermarket at the time.
So, what to do, when you want to “get yourself out there” but are worried that you’re just going to end up screaming portmanteaus at people?
Try new things
I, for one, have decided to submit myself to some exposure therapy – and have joined my local Chamber of Commerce. I figure that the more I mingle, the easier it’ll get. Let’s hope so. My local Chamber runs an event called Speed Networking – like speed dating but with your fellow entrepreneurs (and hopefully less disappointment).
Since the thought of waltzing into a room full of savvy-business-types was rather daunting to me, I hoped that this way – having a two-minute-long one-to-one with individuals – will be a more relaxed and fun way to meet new people. And you know what? It was! Lots of other people there were new to it too, and were just as daunted as I was at the prospect of having to talk for a full 60 seconds, even if it was better than having to approach each other out of the blue and start small talk. Sometimes it broke down completely and just turned into a regular conversation, which was great too. At the end of the session, I left with a stack of business cards, and (due to lack of foresight on my part) had run out of my own business cards – but people were still asking me to write my e-mail address down. I felt so buoyant by the end that I’m almost looking forward to the next one!
Well, for a start, bring enough business cards. But also, I find it best not to go into a situation with a blank mind. The way I got through giving presentations at university was to be mega-prepared – know exactly what I was going to say (I’m not one for ad-libbing!), anticipate questions I might get asked, and basically arm myself in the knowledge that I’m as organised as I can be.
The 60-second-talk that we did in Speed Networking is commonly known as your “elevator pitch” and should be a summary that promotes you, what you do, and how you could help the other person. The more prepared you are to say this out loud, the more comfortable you become (and the more conviction you give it, too). During the Speed Networking, I had to repeat my elevator pitch every other minute about 20 times – so I definitely know what to say now! I also found that lots of people asked me similar questions, so I could start to build up responses to these too and remember them for next time.
You can also think of questions that you can ask other people, such as how long they’ve been in their business for, have they been to similar events, and so on. That way, you’re actually engaging rather than the being one who harps on about themselves, without letting the other person talk about their own experiences.
Embrace the awkward
It wasn’t all plain sailing at Speed Networking – when I first arrived I wrestled with the tea flask for a good few minutes before having to get someone else to pour it for me (why are some flasks so impossible to pour from?!) and when attempting to initiate a handshake with one person, he wasn’t quite prepared and we kind of collided fingers a couple of times instead before managing a successful handshake. Although I was inwardly cringing, I knew that I had to shake these things off and dwell on the good things that happened that day instead of the very minor setbacks (after all, I got my tea and handshake in the end!).
I’ve found that people become more comfortable around you if you show that you can laugh at yourself, and, in a forced-social-interaction situation like networking events, you need laughs, and maybe a bit of human error, to break the ice. It’s likely that loads of people in that room are feeling equally as nervous! So, try not to dwell on the negatives – be brave and get involved anyway. As writer Elbert Hubbard said: Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.
Does this sound like you? Surely it’s not just me! Are you a networking wizard or wallflower? Do you have any other helpful advice? Feel free to share it in the comments!