How I’ve Gotten (A Little) Better at Networking.

I was trying to think of a better title for this post but kept coming up short. I have to be honest: networking is probably my least favorite word in the world. I see it and will sometimes have a visceral reaction. It isn’t that I hate people or don’t want to grow my own network (I’m nice, I swear!), but the phrase itself to me implies meeting people because of what they can do for you as opposed to forging real connections and making real friends.

I’m naturally pretty shy. I can be the life of the party in a small group or with people I love and have known forever, but large groups with lots of new people can make me break out into a full sweat. And I hate, absolutely detest, small talk. Besides that, living in New York can be so overwhelming at times. I don’t mean to generalize an entire city (there are so many exceptions!) but man, everyone wants something! You rack up a few Instagram followers and would be amazed at how many acquaintances from Facebook suddenly reach out to connect for social media advice or to pitch you their Etsy shop, MLM, business idea, etc… it would actually make for great television if it weren’t real life). It can get very overwhelming and frankly makes me want to bury my head under a blanket with a good book.I think that’s why I like the South/Charleston so much.. no one really talks about work, everyone just wants to hang out and get to know you as a person.

As a rule I’ve gotten pretty discerning with my time. I say no to most meeting requests unless they are tied directly to a partnership (I’ll still jump on the phone, but meetings require a commute into the city), I only go to events for brands I’m obsessed with, and I’ve gotten really good at surrounding myself with really great people. I feel so lucky to have built a group of amazing friends, most of whom I’ve met through work (though we rarely actually talk about work, which is nice).

But like it or not, “networking” is a big part of my job. I put on a pretty dress at least once or twice a week to go to industry events, and I like to think I’m getting a little better at it. So here is what is working for me. Keep in mind these tips are probably best for my fellow introverts… my extrovert friends/readers are probably going to be like, “yeah, duh, we know…

Go in with the right mindset. // In my opinion, the best sort of networking is about having the chance to form a real connection/friendship. If you are thinking, “what can I get out of this person,” you have the wrong mindset.  Same goes for thinking, “I have nothing to offer these people.” Just be yourself – that’s really the best possible thing you can offer! For me, I’ve found that letting my silly/nerdy side out a little bit at work events has really helped me. Sort of like with a first date, I will psych myself up. First I will tell myself to relax and that it will be fun. And similar to a date, even if you walk away with a new friend, having learned something new, or had an interesting conversation, that was worth it!

Know yourself and be selective. // I think it’s really important to only say yes when you are in the right mindset/feeling like your best self… and to limit the number of meetings/events/etc. that you take on. Otherwise you’ll get burnt out. As a blogger, I try to make most meetings into phone calls and skip out on events unless they’re for a brand I’m absolutely obsessed with. And if I have more than one event in the evening I will make sure I have a relatively meeting-free day. If I’ve had too much human interaction/overstimulation in one day I shut down a little. Once I was described as “glassy eyed and strange” at an event and I’m sure it was because I had hit my limit of conversation for the day. This rule applies no matter what you do. When I worked for a start-up there were so, so, so many industry events. My boss knew + understood my introvert ways so she helped me prioritize which things I actually needed to go to and what I could pass on.

Brush up on the news/pop culture/current events beforehand. // Even if it’s just a quick scroll through twitter, reading The Skimm, or even Us Weekly, it helps to have two or three things that you can bring up in conversation.

Plan ahead and go with a friend! // This is probably my #1 tip!!! If it is a blogger event I will reach out to a few of my close blogger girlfriends like Krystal, Christine, or Mary to see if they are attending as well. Or, I will ask for a plus one so that I have a friend by my side. My friend Jason is a great person to bring to things as he’s such an extrovert… he draws people in and asks a million questions.

Fake it. // Oftentimes if I am feeling shy I will think of my most charming, extroverted friend, and channel them. As if I am doing an impersonation. I can’t tell you how well this works. I mean, it’s easier after a glass of champagne (evening) or a lot of coffee (morning), but sometimes pretending to be confident leads to actual, real confidence.

Say hello to at least one new person. // Honestly I think this stems from being so uncool in high school (I got picked on and teased a LOT and it’s so sad that this still affects me years later), but introducing myself to new people can give me full-on panic. I was recently at a breakfast for a fragrance launch and felt like the least cool person there. Everyone was so chic and smartly dressed and I felt like a disgusting slob. My dress was wrinkled, I hadn’t had time to properly curl my hair, I felt like an absolute disaster. I was about to reach for my phone and mentally told myself “NO… put that down, say hello, don’t be a loser!” I ended up meeting two really sweet bloggers I’d never talked to before as well as a woman from a digital magazine here in the city (which actually ended up leading to a speaking opportunity tomorrow). The thing is, everyone else is probably feeling like a loser and agonizing over their own wrinkled dress. A simple smile and “Hi, I’m Grace.” can go a long way. As nervous as introducing myself to strangers makes me, I’ve never had someone react badly or turn their nose in the air at me and I always remember that when I go to say hello.

Put your phone away. // This goes back to saying hello to new people. Your phone is a crutch and easy to hide behind. I have been nervous at events and resorted to just answering emails. I mean, what’s the point in going to something if you are going to do that!? I have a serious love/hate relationship with my own phone. Obviously I need it to do my job, but I keep it out of site most of the time. I’ll go to an event, take the photos I need for my Instagram story, save them to my phone and post them on the cab ride home – that way I am not stressing to get everything up all at once… and I can be present and focused upon meeting new people and having actual conversations.

Make a joke. // At that same fragrance launch, I made a joke about my said messy hair and wrinkled dress. Sometimes, even just saying something silly and self-deprecating can go such a long way!

Bring your business cards. // This is more advice for me as I ALWAYS forget mine. I spent a fortune on them when I rebranded and have handed out mayyybe 50 of them in two years. I make sure to always have a few in my purse every time I walk out the door.

What are your best networking tips? It’s something I will in all honesty probably have to work on for the rest of my life… so I’d love to hear your advice!

images via Unsplash.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for the tips! I’m quite bad at networking myself, these are some of the things I need to work on!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

  2. Stephanie says 8.23.17

    Oh man, I can relate to this so well. I’m naturally quiet and shy, unless I’m around a small group of people I know well…..and I’m 100% guilty of pulling out my phone when I’m uncomfortable. Thanks for the tips!

  3. Jordan says 8.23.17

    just so you know grace, you NEVER come off as awkward or shy. i think you do a really good job of putting yourself out there!

  4. I get major anxiety at large social events, I always have since I was young. So networking can be a struggle for me. I’ve learned to just fake it or bring along a friend. Usually I calm down and my anxiety goes away after being at the event for a little while.

    • grace at the stripe says 8.24.17

      I feel exactly the same way. It gets better as you’ve been there a bit longer!

  5. Julia W. says 8.23.17

    Couldn’t agree with all of this more!

  6. Sage says 8.23.17

    Oh my goodness this is a perfect read for an introvert who needs to learn how to be more comfortable with networking. I’m in college right now and love to stay home with a book or chat with people I know well. Networking can be a daunting challenge for me. Thanks for all the tips and tricks

  7. Briana says 8.23.17

    Good for you girl! Networking is my weakness but you definitely got it down!

    Briana
    https://beyoutifulbrunette.com/

  8. Courtney Brandt says 8.23.17

    Great tips! I have business cards that lend themselves to conversation and the investment in the design has really paid off. Not only are they memorable, they naturally segue into additional questions (yes – one card can do all that!). Other than that, having a partner in crime makes events much more tolerable — I feel very lucky my bestie is in the same industry as me.

    • grace at the stripe says 8.24.17

      That’s such a smart idea! And you are lucky!!! Having a bestie in the same industry is the dream! xo

  9. The more I read your posts, the more I like you! It’s so funny to hear you describe feeling unpolished at an event, because you’re the kind of woman I’d stand next to in a room and find myself feeling frumpy and messy in comparison. I think we probably all share these insecurities, even the extroverts who may look like they don’t:).

    • grace at the stripe says 8.24.17

      That’s so funny. I feel frumpy and messy ALL THE TIME. It’s funny how helpful sharing this stuff is for me… realizing others go through the exact same thing!

  10. Rachelle says 8.24.17

    I’m detest blogger events, I hate to say it but I do. So many of the ones that I’ve been to are just so clicky so I don’t ever go anymore. I know I need to make an effort but honestly I just don’t bother. In my real job it’s easier because I work in IT and we are all introverted and a little nerdy lol.

    xo
    Pinksole

  11. Annie says 8.24.17

    These are good tips – particularly channeling your most gregarious friend (I do that! Thanks, sister’s fiance!). Another thing I do has to do with the inevitable “what do you do?” line (which I KNOW people in other countries consider rude, and it is wrong to equate your identity with your job, but whatever). Once a person tells you what he or she does, focus on an aspect of his/her job that might be challenging or difficult and say something to the effect of: “It must be hard to (fill in the blank).” If you’re meeting a teacher, for example, you can say, “It must be hard to manage a class full of hormonal teenagers!” Or if you meet an undertaker (woof): “It must be difficult to navigate the grief of families on a daily basis.” Or a financial adviser: “I don’t think I could successfully manage so many people’s money – it sounds stressful to be in charge of that!” EVERYONE thinks his or her job is hard, and it gets people talking in a more detailed way. It makes you feel like you’re migrating away from small talk and into more organic territory. You have to pay close attention and think on your feet a little, but having a “job” to do in a conversation is a good thing anyway.

  12. Kristen says 8.25.17

    even though my blog is small and just a side hobby – i cant totally agree with all of these points! I am so proud of myself when I actually remember to bring my business cards!! And I learned to be super selective about what events I’ll attend or brands I’ll agree to work with – our time is precious!

    • grace at the stripe says 8.25.17

      You are so right – our time is very precious!! Have a great weekend, Kristen!

  13. Charlotte Steggz says 8.28.17

    Love this advice! I also dislike networking, but have to do it for my job. Here’s my advice – get your elevator pitch sorted before you go.

    • grace at the stripe says 8.29.17

      For sure. I often find myself rehearsing in the back of my cab or on the subway. 🙂

  14. Roxane Papageorgiou says 8.29.17

    I really enjoyed reading this article! I too am an introvert and it can affect my personal and professional life at times. Thanks for the tips, and it’s nice knowing other people go through the same thing!

  15. Theodora says 9.6.17

    I’ve been at my current job for 4 years, so I’ve gotten totally out of practice with networking — and I feel like I’ve actually gotten more shy/introverted as I get older! But I try to always turn the conversation back on the other person and ask them about what they do, etc., to distract from my own awkwardness 😉