Networking is bullshit. It’s the most necessary piece of bullshit I’ve ever seen, especially in Los Angeles, but then again, strong words for strong feelings. So while you’re wading through the crap, congratulations, you’re doing something that’s supposed to help you. Let’s see if there’s any way to make sense of it.
Everyone has their reason for networking. I generally try to see who’s out there, who’s new, and meet up/keep up connections with people I’ve met before. Personally, organic relationships mean more to me than schmoozing someone I’ve talked to for five minutes; however, I’ve met some of my best friends while “networking”. Adjust your attitude to be positive. Think hard on what you want out of this. Usually people are either trying to strengthen their existing network within the position they currently hold or they want to leave their job and try something else. Everyone wants something. That can be overwhelming. That also causes a distant look of disinterest in the eyes of the person you’re talking to once they’ve realized you can’t service them. Brush it off and move on. Stay focused on why you’re there.
Don’t Go With Your Friends
I was given the advice that you can go with one other person, then divide and conquer. It’s easier to invade a conversation as one person than with a group of four people. That being said, I get intimidated by large groups of people, like, “how do I burst in and say hi without being super awkward?” But the whole point of the event is for you to meet people. Go from one group to the next. When you meet up with your friend or get stuck later, you can introduce your buddy to people you’ve met and vice versa.
Two Drink Limit
You want something to eliminate that awkward feeling of “what do I do with my hands?” But don’t drink past the point of no return. Instead of trusting your instincts, limit your alcohol consumption by a finite amount.
Confidence Is Key
If you don’t seem confident, if you don’t take yourself seriously, why would anyone else? As they say, fake it till you make it. Do not focus on your assessment of what you’re doing with your career or what you’ve done. Instead, present yourself in a confident manner without judgement. Everyone has hard feelings about themselves. I have friends who’ve sold scripts, who write for TV shows, who work at amazing companies, and maybe it’s the creative field we work in, but they all teeter between thinking they’re awesome and that other feeling where everything they write and do is shit. Don’t let your feelings get in the way of how you project yourself and what you’re trying to accomplish.
Plan Your Introduction
Try hard so it doesn’t seem like you’re trying that hard. This is great for nervous or socially awkward people. That way when someone asks the famed “so what do you do?” then you can answer with something other than “um” or “oh my god help me.” Sometimes I forget that I, too, am an interesting person. I cringed as I wrote that, but referring back to tip #1, I’m fucking awesome and you can suck it…overcompensating but back to the point. Before the last networking event I went to, I literally had a friend tell me what to say about myself because I couldn’t think of anything. I’m not even going to tell you what it was now because I still feel awkward about it.
Try any combination of…
Your Education + Your Job + Your Skill Set + What You’re Working On + What You’re Trying To Get Into
Make An Impression
There are two parts to this. Focus on the other person. Actually listen to what they’re saying. Everyone has their own path, their own interests, and their reason for being there. Find out what those things are. They might not be compatible with your desires, but that’s not the immediate point. What? Why not? Because you want to make genuine connections with people. Who knows, they might have a friend who is doing what you want to do or maybe you do something their friend wants to do. Also, you’re NOT spending 10 minutes with every person. This is a networking event. Meet everyone – get in and out – 5 minutes max.
The other part of this is how to be memorable in five minutes or less. Yet to master this, I have what I’d like to call Brown Haired, White Girl syndrome. I blend into a crowd like white on rice. People who have met me and had full on conversations, sometimes played games with me or shared life experiences with me, do not remember who I am. I get it happening about 2-3 times (I’ve done it to other people), but beyond that, say around the fourth time you reintroduce yourself, I start to become hostile. Do you not remember that time we played cricket until Paulo shot Stephen in the eye over a fouled pitch? I cried into your arms until our shared friend Tiffany took us home. No? That’s because of Brown Haired, White Girl Syndrome. You’ve replaced me with a Sara, Stephanie, or Sandra. My point is, don’t be me. Be memorable. And once you’ve figured that out, tell me how the f*** you did it.
Keep Up Your Network
Not everyone uses business cards. We have our phones – add people on Facebook or LinkedIn. The point of exchanging information is not so that the other person has your info, it’s so you have theirs. Follow up with them a couple days after the networking event and to create an impression then. “Hey we met at _____? I’d love to get coffee or drinks (to talk about ____). What days work for you?” Personalize it more if you like. At least here in L.A., it’s standard to just ask someone to drinks, it’s not weird; it’s common place. Don’t feel self-conscious about it.