Networking – gah!

My worst networking experience was in December 2010. We wore nametags, I was nervous, I got one drink, spoke to one person and ran away after 20 minutes. It was pathetic! I came home and declared that I was never going to a networking event again.

Fast forward to last night. I went to an event and was comfortable, conversational and happy. I had 2 drinks (water!), spoke to at least 9 people and stayed for an hour and a half.

Here’s what I have learned since 2010 that makes networking events totally pleasant and productive.

1. Pretend you are the host of the event
I am shy, but I am not rude. So the trick is to pretend that the event is a dinner party I am hosting at my home. That way it is my responsibility to greet my guests, say hello to them, make them feel comfortable. Playing the role of “welcoming host” shifts my energy and helps me to connect with others.

2. Set a tangible goal for the evening

As I approached my event last night, I set a goal for myself:
Talk to 2 men, 2 women, and meet the host of the event. Once I accomplish that, I can go home.

Another example of a goal is to hand out 5 business cards, or collect 5 business cards.

By setting a tangible goal with numbers attached to it, it turns the process into a game. It forces you to challenge yourself. Of course, what I really desire is meaningful connection, but attaching some numbers to it helps me to ensure I will achieve that instead of hiding in the corner.

3. Don’t be desperate
The best way to not be desperate is to network when you’re at the top of your game. Network when you have a job. Don’t wait until the chips are down. Make it a point to meet people and connect even when you don’t need to. That way you’ll be ready for a rainy day. And you can show up and be your impressive, most charming self.

4. Add value
When you have conversations, look for ways to add value to people’s lives. Invite them to an event, connect them with a contact who may be helpful, give them advice about where to live in Boston. This makes you memorable and likeable.

5. Cut and run
My boyfriend taught me this one. He would always laugh when he saw me stuck talking to someone awful and come and rescue me. I asked why this didn’t happen to him and he said he never gets stuck. He finds a way to escape. Excuse yourself to get a drink, go to the bathroom, or talk to someone else.

I still need to practice this, but it is liberating to realize you don’t always have to be so darn nice.

6. Practice
I co-host a happy hour that meets every month and this has given me good practice with talking to strangers. I can practice being the welcoming host, and I have learned that everyone is shy (so get over it) and wants to be treated with warmth.

7. Go to events you actually care about
Last night was a meet & greet with Ramit Sethi, author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich. I was excited to meet him and like-minded people. Sure, I still had a moment of “can’t I just stay at home in sweatpants and watch Ellen” but was able to push through the inertia and get out of my comfort zone.

8. Go home! 
You don’t have to stay all night – just commit to showing up for an hour, following the steps above to ensure you make some meaningful connections and then get your butt home and in sweatpants. The return to your comfort zone never felt so sweet!

Do you have any advice to share? Please share!