Sherry and I got a nice little holiday notice in the American University Alumni Update for a networking breakfast we headlined back in November. It was flattering to be invited back to our shared alma mater (MA for me, BA for Sherry), much as it was for me to be invited back to Notre Dame, my undergrad alma mater. It was also slightly ironical to be invited to speak at a networking event, since I’ve historically been horrible at navigating networking events.
Here’s what gets me: even though I’m (at least I think) a social and extroverted person, when I find myself at a networking event, I pull a Benjamin Button and actually revert to the awkward, gangly, socially-inept version of myself from junior high and most of high school. Who do I approach? What do I say? Where do I stand? What should I do with my hands? The situation seems to play out like this: 1) I choose a networking event; 2) I go to said networking event; 3) I walk into the room said networking event is being held in; 4) I think to myself, ‘What the crap do I do now? ‘
And this AU networking event was no different. I thought I would feel different being one of the “featured” networkers in the room. This was not the case. I was as awkward and ungainly as I ever. Even so, I managed to follow the advice so often given to introverted networkers: suck it up and do it.
After getting some breakfast and coffee, I sidled up to a table already occupied by two individuals. I introduced myself to them and immediately knew that one of them looked incredibly familiar. We spent the next 15 minutes trying to figure out how we knew each other and eventually realized that, though we’d been different concentrations for our MAs at AU, we had actually had one class together, an international communication class that was in my first semester of grad school and his last. And even though we hadn’t known each other well at AU, I felt in some way like I was seeing an old friend. I told him what I’d been up to. He told me about his life as a science and technology consultant at the World Bank. I really enjoyed his company. We resolved to meet for a beer after the New Year and continue the discussion. All in all, an incredibly pleasant- and unexpected- networking encounter.
My points are thrice:
1) Sometimes you just have to suck it up and talk to some folks, no matter how much pain it causes in you.
2) Be open to the unexpected in networking. You never know who you’re going to run into or where that relationship might lead.
3) I need to listen to my own advice. In Working World the book, I talk about how professionals (especially young professionals new to networking) need to view networking not as a grim necessity but rather as an organically developing web of human connections. If we can do this, networking will not be the horrible chore that we often believe it to be, but rather an enjoyable every day experience. And as easy as it was for me to write this, evidently it’s a bit tougher to put into practice.
Check out this post on networking on the Jibber Jobber career blog. While worthwhile in its own right (though a bit haughty for my taste in its liberal use of question marks (???) and an “of course you didn’t know that and I’m going to tell you” tone), the best stuff comes in the comments section. Like from one Carl E. Reid:
Everyday life throughout the world is a networking opportunity full of per chance meetings. Don’t stress yourself