If reading the phrase "networking event" sends a chill down your spine, you may find a kindred soul in Billfold writer Sarah Todd:
While Todd is talking about the marathon craziness of conferences, that same Attila-like ambience can be detected in any networking event—those happenings where buckets of striving people are plopped into a room and told to meet each other. While we do know that being a superconnector—someone at the center of many a network—avails you to exciting new ideas (and diseases!) and that email introductions are a skill to be mastered, the whole introducing yourself in real life thing can still get a little clumsy.
Todd offers some pointers on becoming more graceful:
Learn how to explain yourself.
"This was the most awkward part of the conference for me," Todd writes. "The successful networkers had well-developed elevator pitches that summed up their professional lives in a sentence or two."
Ah, the elevator pitch: the most necessary of evils. Since succinctness is the currency of the conference hustle, you have to be able to present yourself crisply, cleverly, and like a human. Todd mentions an admirably cool person who spent her twenties "collecting stories" as an art student, seamstress, and carpenter—proof of how an original, confident turn of phrase can make you memorable. But regardless of experience, if that story collector mumbled something generic about "finding her passion," we probably wouldn't be writing about her here.
Befriend the friendly.
Todd says that while making friends with nice people—rather than hounding the folks you think can advance your career—wasn't "a very Attila kind of move," it made her feel more secure and happy in the tumult of the conference. And as we've discussed, when you feel safe, you make other people feel safe, too—allowing the both of you to actually connect with one another. Having some opening lines ready can help, too.
Take a break.
"At conferences there’s a lot of pressure to be on 24/7 like a dutiful Roomba," Todd writes, "but that’s not sustainable." Trust that at some point through the day you will feel overwhelmed; when you do, take some time off. (Absence, as we've noted, has a presence all its own.) Get a coffee. Text your mom. Check in with yourself—no, not with an app—to see if you're doing what you came here to do.
And realize that not everyone hates you.
Between the nametags and the social climbing, networking events are places of massive, reciprocal judgment. Everyone is looking everyone else over. Which, as Todd describes, lends the whole affair an odd sort of kinship: "Conferences are not places of hate. They are places of vast, bottomless neurosis. Which means that when I attend my next conference later this month, I’ll saunter up to the registration table knowing that I fit right in."
[Image: Flickr user Nicksarebi]