How to Navigate Your First Networking Event, Jill-Style

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How to Navigate Your First Networking Event, Jill-Style

I know, heebie jeebies, right?! I’ve been going to these for a LONG time, and I still sometimes feel unsettled going to events with new groups of people! “What if no one talks to me?” “What if I try to say something and it sounds dumb and everyone slowly backs away in horror?” “What if my pants fall off mid-sentence?” (Ok that last one is a slight stretch.)

It doesn’t matter whether you’re new to the workforce or an industry veteran- if it’s something you aren’t used to doing, networking at events can certainly be nerve-wracking, anxiety-inducing affairs that invoke sleepless nights and maybe one too many trips to the bar at the event. Amirite?


BUT, it’s CRUCIAL to the development of your career. It’s crucial for obvious reasons should you want to change jobs or change your entire career track. AND it’s important even if you’re happy at work (YAY!). Why? Maybe you’ll meet just the person your company needs to hire for another role. Or maybe you’ll meet someone who can come in and help alleviate a problem your department has been having. (And then, brownie points for you!). On top of that, it’s ALWAYS prudent to see what else is out there for your own career development. Keeping tabs on opportunities can lead to better work-life balance, higher salary, a more challenging job or all of the above.

SO, now that I’ve pontificated on WHY networking is key, how the heck do you navigate your first few events? 

I’ll take you back to 2013 for a little ditty or two to show you how much I absolutely feel your pain when you think about going to an event.  When I got back from my time in Argentina, I started networking. I was TERRIFIED. Sometimes I would go all the way to the event (that I paid for) just to leave without going in. I don’t want to know how much money I wasted doing this.  Even as late as last year, I had signed up for my alumni association’s summer cruise on the Hudson River. I arrived to board, only to realize that everyone had come with friends or a partner. I was alone. And was gonna be on a boat for 3+ hours and knew of NO ONE going. I panicked. I boarded the boat, telling myself that if worse came to worse I could read my book about Abraham Lincoln that was on my iPad. Then, I made myself stand in line at the bar and get myself a drink. I turned around and….there was an old friend I hadn’t seen for years. “Jill, hi!,” he said. Phew. Exhale and release.

Ok, so how do we skip over the thudding heartbeat in the ears feeling? How do we make networking easy as pie?

  1. Get the book “Presence” by Amy Cuddy I just finished this for my own business and life, and it’s really helped me see how I’m “showing up” differently. From the Amazon description: “By accessing our personal power, we can achieve “presence,” the state in which we stop worrying about the impression we’re making on others and instead adjust the impression we’ve been making on ourselves. As Harvard professor Amy Cuddy’s revolutionary book reveals, we don’t need to embark on a grand spiritual quest or complete an inner transformation to harness the power of presence. Instead, we need to nudge ourselves, moment by moment, by tweaking our body language, behavior, and mind-set in our day-to-day lives.” How great would it be to go into a room of people we don’t know or barely know in a state where we’re not caught up on how we’re coming across to others? How would that totally change the game for us? Believe me, this one is a doozy.
  2. Lean on your friends and colleagues. This stuff takes work and even after reading Amy’s book, you might still be like, “Umm Jill, I’m still not going to any events.” That’s ok and that’s also why it’s ok to lean on friends and colleagues. Go with someone you know and promise to split up for 30 or 45 minutes and then reconvene. I did this in the early days and it made it so much more palatable! I’ve also called a sympathetic friend before heading into an event alone and she helped me come up with my goal for the night (e.g. “Stay for 45 minutes and talk to 2 people and THEN you can leave.”). This held me accountable to someone who was DEFINITELY going to ask me, and it gave me a clear goal. It also got me started. I only stayed for the bare minimum of my goal for those first few events, but after awhile, I was able to surpass my goal. You will too.
  3. Ask Questions, Be Curious. Here’s the thing, though. People love to talk. And they love to talk about themselves. So, for your first few events while you’re getting your feet wet, go to the event with a few questions to ask  people. “What interested you in this event?” “How did you get started in your field?” “What do you like about what you do?” are all great questions. I tend to avoid the “So what do you do?” question, because if they do something so far afield from you that you can’t relate the question is DOA, but it’s asked often.
  4. Remember, They Are People Too. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s true. These people are going home to be moms, dads, daughters, sons, girlfriends, boyfriends, pet owners, etc. They are also going home to do water color paintings on the weekends or play in a sports league. They’re people with insecurities and dreams and hopes too. If you can remember that in a particularly anxious moment at an event, I guarantee you that you’ll feel some relief.

What are some other tactics you’ve used to navigate your first few networking events? Share ’em below!