Written by Dotty Winters

Lifestyle

Networking for the socially awkward

Dread the merry-go-round of embarrassment that is the work-based networking event? Dotty Winters does. Enjoy, then, the comedian’s indispensable guide to navigating this most excruciating of social undertakings. Just don’t forget to pack your “distraction mammal”.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

Making a success of your career brings some unavoidable certainties: hard work, insecurity, paper clips and god-awful networking events. Networking is skin-clawingly horrific at the best of times, but if you are a little bit socially awkward, it’s never going to be a picnic. So here are my top tips to survive:

• Leave your self-respect in the lobby; this is no time for dignity.

• Bring a travel rug and some cucumber sandwiches. Set your rug out in the centre of the room, sit on it, make intense and determined eye contact with the first person you see and pat the empty space next to you on the rug. See? Now it’s a picnic.

• If you forget to bring your own provisions, don’t worry, most networking events are sort of catered. If there is coffee or wine on offer, have all of it; it’s there to help.

• It can sometimes feel like everyone else has got their shit together and is much better at this than you.

This is a common misconception. Networking encourages people to put on a brave face and present the most maniacally successful version of themselves. But look closely at their glazed expressions and dead eyes – everyone here is as miserable as you, and your hair is better than theirs. See that guy over there, furtively stuffing stale croissants into his socks? He isn’t having a nice time either.

• Everyone here is desperate for your attention and approval (until someone more important offers either). So make like Freshers’ Week and tell everyone your name, your home town and which A-levels you did.

• It’s very important to remember everyone’s name. You may have heard that a good way to do this is to make sure you use people’s names regularly, but I think this can come off a little creepy. You may find it less intrusive to train a small mammal to create a distraction, while you quickly scribble people’s names onto their foreheads with a Sharpie. Remembering names can be a challenge for everyone, so you’ll be helping the whole group out – full marks for team work.

• If you want people to remember your name, make it memorable. I often use Friendly-Faced-Tits-McBig-Bum, but you can think of your own.

“Networking encourages people to put on a brave face and present the most maniacally successful version of themselves. But look closely at their glazed expressions and dead eyes – everyone here is as miserable as you, and your hair is better than theirs.”

• You may be asked to introduce yourself to the group. This is your chance to shine. It’s important to be distinctive – most people will use a combination of words, powerful gestures and confident facial expressions. Remain mute and give your audience a terrified stare, for 45 seconds, then select one attendee, point at them and shout: “You’re one of them!” No one will forget you.

• Bring business cards or, if you don’t have any, write your name and number on old receipts from your wallet. The best networkers have business cards which grab people’s attention and are unputdownable. A blob of well-chewed gum on the back will create this effect instantly.

• Mirroring people’s body language helps to build rapport, but if you are facing someone it can be hard not to get your lefts and rights muddled. A great work-around is to stand exactly behind someone, facing the same direction, and very, very close to them. For added impact, mirror whoever is leading the meeting or speaking.

• Humour is a great way to build relationships. If you haven’t prepared 30-40 minutes of killer networking-based material, you can fake it: simply respond to every statement with “Your mother”. You’ll be making friends in no time.

• If all else fails, sneak out of the networking event into the car park. Fit tiny surveillance cameras in the cars of the most obnoxious characters you’ve met so far. I guarantee they’ll cry all the way home.

Regather your self-respect, log in to LinkedIn and click a few buttons. Congratulations, you’ve nailed this.

@DottyWinters

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Written by Dotty Winters

Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.