The human soul hungers for kindred connection and every analytic mind quickly grasps the power and influence that results from a large web of relationships. On the other hand, social anxiety is also very real. The research tells us that social anxiety is the second most common form of anxiety disorder and the third most common mental disorder—just behind depression and alcohol dependence. Nearly 20 million Americans are afflicted with social anxiety disorder.
There is a conflict between our need for human contact and the real fear, uncertainty and doubt that accompany social anxiety. This conflict is most acute in the business and social trend toward networking events. I experienced an example of this conflict at a recent business luncheon.
As part of the event, there was a social hour and networking opportunity. As the keynote speaker, I felt an obligation to participate. I scanned the crowded room and immediately picked out a forlorn-looking employee of one of the event sponsors. I approached him and asked how his networking activities were going. His response confirmed my suspicions. He felt all alone in that crowded room. Everyone else was engaged in lively conversation but when he tried to join in he felt intrusive, rude, and out of touch with the conversational flow. He eventually withdrew.
That experience, repeated in some form at every event I attend, inspired this article. There are 3 strategies that can help everyone make networking events more fun, more effective, and pain free.
- Bring a friend or a small group of friends
Among the advantages of bringing a friend or a small group of friends is the fact that you become emboldened. In the company of peers you become more confident, relaxed and socially active. Friends can introduce one another to individuals or small groups. An introduction creates a reasonable intrusion to an extant conversation. Additionally there is synergy among friends. With just a bit of planning and coordination, each person’s contacts become everyone’s new connections.
- Make the room small
A room full of people can be intimidating. Especially when they are already engaged in fun interactions with each other. You make the room small by focusing on one individual or one small group with whom you have a connection. Even if the conversation is underway, touching someone’s arm, excusing the interruption and making the connection is effective. For example, while touching one or more people on the arm or shoulder you direct your comment to the person you recognize, “excuse me, I’m Joan Smith over at Edgidyne aren’t you with Techlegal? Let’s make sure to connect before the night is over”. You can then move on to a next person or small group or you can settle into the group you have interrupted by directing your next comment to the person that was speaking. “Again, sorry for the interruption, please, back to what you were saying.” Don’t just attach yourself to one person or group. When it is socially convenient, move on. Meaningfully connect with as many people as time permits.
- Arm yourself with a short introduction and conversation topics
Fundamental to networking is comfortable social conversation. A good rule here is, contribute but don’t dominate. Your preparation of a short introduction, an ability to respond to questions with meaningful conversation about interests, family, and work, and your ability to talk about current events and topics of interest to the group add to your ability to contribute to the conversation. Asking good questions and listening to answers facilitates useful understanding that takes you deeper than superficial interaction.
Bring a friend or a small group. Make the room small. Arm yourself with a short introduction. Be prepared to expound on questions about family, interests and work. Prepare to talk about 3-5 current events or topics of interest to participants in the networking event. Ask good questions and listen to the answers. These strategies will make your networking fun, effective and pain free. Now go!
When you are prepared you will have no need to fear.