In an ideal world a networking event would be run like an old-fashioned dinner party with a host or hostess carefully planning the menu to the tastes of the guests, seating people with similar interests together, elegantly introducing the guests to one another, and rescuing the guests from potentially awkward interactions.
Instead we announce a networking event, order the smallest possible wine glasses, the cheapest wine, and the greasiest appetizers and throw our guests into the mix with the expectation that mentors will magically meet mentees and the seeds for brilliant collaborations will begin to incubate. Then we end up with a gaggle of poor academics wandering around without enough wall space and corner chairs to hide all of us who would really prefer to be elsewhere.
In my undergraduate’s acting classes, I require students to pretend that they are enjoying themselves. After all, I say, if you can’t even manage to pretend that you like the acting process, how skillful an actor can you possibly be?
I give myself the same assignment for networking sessions. Networking is important for my job and I can’t do it well unless I pretend to be having a good time (no one wants to have a conversation with someone who would evidently rather be wearing her bunny slippers and reading an Agatha Christie novel). The best part is, the more I pretend to enjoy networking , the more I actually do enjoy it!
Here are the five things I do to act like I am having a good time and trick others and myself into actually having a good time:
- Dress for Confidence – Wear something that is comfortable and that makes you feel like the most professional and confident version of yourself. Skip the uncomfortable shoes or the dress you have to tug at every time you stand up. Make sure your blazer fits and that you genuinely like your tie.
- Stand Up Comfortably Straight – I plant my feet hips’ width apart and I stand with my weight equally balanced backwards and forwards and side to side. I imagine a hot air balloon is floating the crown of my head up to the ceiling. I make an effort to be my biggest, most open self.
- Go Over Your Goals – Remind yourself what you want to get out of the networking session and make a plan for getting it. This blog post will help.
- Re-frame Nervousness – I am a shy person and unstructured social situations ALWAYS make me want to throw up. I tell myself that this nervousness is excitement. I am about to enter the unknown and I might meet anyone: the person with whom I will win the Nobel prize, the perfect post-doc for my research project, maybe even a fellow Dr. Who fan. Of course I’m excited: the possibilities are endless. I can deal with some excited butterflies in my stomach.
- Be Friendly – If you see someone too shy to join into the conversation, make an effort to include him or her by asking a question. Invite people to share a table with you. Comment positively about the food, drink, or the day’s presentations to someone behind you in line. Introduce someone you just met to a new person who seems hesitant. This strategy gives you something to do and it focuses you on others’ enjoyment rather than your own discomfort. You will become a networking superhero and many, many people will be grateful to you.
After years of forcing myself to pretend to enjoy networking events, I finally do enjoy them. You can too! Let me know how the five steps work for you in the comments below.
Like what you've read so far?
For more FREE tools & FUN tips to help you communicate better and present your research confidently, get our guide: The Top Ten Things You Can Do to Make Sure You Do Not Die During Your Science Presentation and tips sent to your inbox!