My good friend, Christine had just started off her master’s degree. She was interested in knowing some of the leaders in her field of interest. I advised; she should attend networking events. Several weeks down the line, she reluctantly penciled down a networking event into her google calendar. She is a young lady who must juggle between work and school. Christine suffers from social anxiety. Seldom, does she initiate conversations. She defines herself as an ambivert, which I came to learn, describes an extroverted introvert.
To be fair, even the most social within our circles sometimes dread networking. Christine’s social anxiety is an easily manageable panic that can otherwise morph into a debilitating inner dialogue. Our mental teleprompter will not stop streaming in a string of garbled words which make up our networking pitch, and thoughts of inadequacy and self-criticism.
We all rehearse word for word, the previous night and in the morning as we dress in front of the mirror for minutes on end. We do not stop to ask what if the other person is not going to follow the script in our heads, what happens next.
Christine rehearsed the pleasant small talk she would have and the potential business connections to be made. From the outside looking in, it will seem as if she is having fun and listening attentively, she would laugh on cue whenever someone says something funny. This was the most valiant effort she was going to put in to overcome her anxiety and ace the networking event.
D-day, Christine attends the multi-day conference. The event provided all meals for those attending, to have everyone network during the meals. The area was accessed by walking down a flight of stairs. As Christine was heading down the stairs, she was keenly looking into the room to see who she was going to approach for a chat. Absent mindedly, she lost her footing and rolled all the way down the stairs with her laptop tumbling behind. Everyone stopped talking and eating gasping and staring. Fortunately, she did not get hurt but everyone in the room knew who she was.
Tips for getting a hold of anxiety and networking from experts.
- Practice mindfulness
Before going in for the networking event, Dr Nosal, suggests carving out a few quite minutes to yourself – in the car, bathroom stall, just anywhere quiet for personal meditation and reflection. This helps in feeling more at ease and more grounded in the moment. Breathing in and out deeply and steadily at the spot calms down anxiety.
- Redirecting anxiety to a source of motivation
“Implicit in all networking events are opportunities to connect with others in the service of personal and professional growth.” Dr. Levine. Instead of resisting your nervousness, channel it into thoughtful problem solving and preparation in advance of the event.
- Focus on questions and answers
Prepare for the anticipated questions you are likely to be asked. These questions might be subjects around your job depending on your pitch. Dr. Levine notes that the practice of generating responses in advance will lesson your hyper-vigilance in the moment.
- Be genuine
Give genuine compliments. When you compliment someone genuinely, they tend to feel understood and become more receptive to learning about you.