I am really a socially-awkward introvert (INFJ & Enneagram 2) hiding inside the body of what you think is an extroverted social butterfly.
Let’s talk about this thing we say. “Networking is so scary.” “Ehh, I am not cut out for that” “Networking is annoying.” I hear this a lot.
I understand you. I frequently get the comment “But… Lauren, you must not be as scared about it as I am…” The absolute truth is that I experience mind-crippling, gut-churning, watch-checking, fake-text-checking, wanting-to-hide side-effects you’re talking about.
But first, a secret… and I am embarrassed to admit this, sometimes I DO hide and pretend to look busy on my phone because I don’t know how to fit into a conversation. Sometimes I arrive late because I am afraid of all eyes being on me.
I know you still don’t believe me so here is an actual screenshot of a text from 2 years ago, proving that we all lose our minds sometimes. (I’m in blue) I was at a conference where I didn’t know anyone, and I (was hiding in the corner) was looking very busy on my phone, texting a friend to find just a flicker of confidence to talk to others in the room.
OK I know that is funny to read––but here is what you see on the outside. You see me planning conferences, organizing massive events, teaching webinars, doing podcast interviews, networking, smiling, shaking hands, creating relationships, introducing people, having fun, taking pictures for Instagram. But we all face something in our own heads, don’t we?
But if I am being honest with myself and you, my fear comes from a tiny bit of insecurity about how I look, some imposter syndrome (which I am finding EVERYONE faces time and again) and the fear that I won’t be able to find a connection-point with someone, or how to get out of a conversation that isn’t heading in the right direction.
BUT GUESS WHAT? I keep showing up, and I keep doing it, and it HELPS ME––and you can too. I’m telling you all this so that you know that everyone has a THING that paralyzes them but we can totally overcome our own challenges with the right tools.
First I am going to tell you WHY I CONTINUE to network, and then I’ll tell you tools of how I personally network and make the absolute most out of it. If you don’t read anything past this point, my end-all tip is to keep doing it and keep showing up even when you don’t want to. Examples below.
Why do I do it:
You may have heard me say before that whether you’re online or in-person, cultivating relationships is the key to success in your business and life. I believe this 100%. By essentially networking alone, and putting myself in highly uncomfortable networking situations, I have made several successful relationships. Let me make it crystal clear that sometimes the connections I’ve made are not what I’d call obviously successful but they develop over time via a genuine connection with good people. This brings me to my next point.
- Networking strengthens my intuition:
Have you ever gotten a vibe about someone you have just met that either says “YES, I LOVE this person!” or “Ahhhh I need to get as far from this person as possible!” deep inside your gut?
We all have been blessed with an incredibly strong sense of intuition. When I was little I used to try to push it away. I confused it with being “judgmental” and felt guilty for feeling that way. Later I found out that judgement and intuition were two entirely different things. By doing some deep soul searching, learning more about my personality, and experiencing some mental growth, I have been learning to lean into my intuitive abilities to gauge a room and use it as my super-power to find the driven, encouraging, and humanitarian people I want in my life. Networking strengthens my intuition and gives me the ability to practice self-care when it comes to building relationships.
- I do it because I want my business to grow.
It’s simple but true. I get great joy out of helping people, serving my clients, and growing my business. If I look at the equation in front of me it looks like this:
Networking + Cultivating Relationships = Business & Self Growth
Whenever I get too caught up in my head, I just try to take the emotion out for enough moments to just simply force me to walk into a room.
Every time I go to an event or put myself into an uncomfortable situation my business, mind, network, and relationships grow. EVERY TIME. I have at least 5 mainstay high-paying clients that are a direct feed from a networking connection.
Disclaimer: I have NOT mastered networking, nor is it substantially less scary for me, but let me make the case for getting better at it and tell you my tricks for getting through it.
This is HOW I do it and the tools I use:
- I use my fear as fuel.
Have you ever chugged a Redbull or taken a pre-workout supplement, and then gone to the gym? That little extra boost of eh… questionable… energy can really give you an edge to get through a killer workout and that’s how I can best describe USING the nervousness of networking. (Ok, also I don’t recommend chugging redbull before the gym haha)
Before heading into a networking situation the fear bubbles up and makes me crazy. My heart-rate is usually elevated, and I am filled with thoughts like “Why would anyone want to talk to me?” Or depending on the situation, “I might not be cool enough or successful enough, or wealthy enough to be in this room.”
So, what I try to do is banish those thoughts from my head by saying to myself, “The worst thing that can happen is that no one likes you and you have already prepared yourself for this Lauren… so just carry on.”
THEN… I use that nervous elevated energy as rocket-fuel and channel it into excitement.
When I was in London last November, I had coffee with a new friend and inspiring thought leader, Kelly Baadar, she told me she does the same thing before she goes out on stage. She turns her fear-energy into excitement-energy. She KILLED it on stage at the #YouPreneur summit and walked out to a roaring standing ovation. It clearly worked.
I asked my friend, business partner and mentor Mike Kim if he gets nervous before networking and before going on stage, and he said he channels any of those nerves into energy. He said he knows he is responsible for keeping and maintaining the energy of the room.
See a trend here?
If you think about it, the nervous feelings are the same as butterflies in your stomach before a first date, you have simply attached a different thought IN YOUR HEAD based on the event. Easier said than done, but give it a try.
- I take a break if I need it.
Sometimes as an introvert, I TRULY need a break in order to be my best self. Now, I don’t let that stop me from getting out of going to a networking event entirely, but sometimes at the end of a conference, before the networking party or event, I need a good 10 min or half-hour by myself to re-charge. That is OKAY. I don’t beat myself up about that, but instead, I re-charge and jump back in.
- I think of what I can give instead of what I can get.
My friend Travis Chappell, Top 25 business podcaster on iTunes who literally has a podcast about NETWORKING (Build Your Network Podcast) talks about how the worst thing you can do at an event, is be the person who is only there to benefit themselves, to talk about themselves only, shove business cards in everyone’s hands, get leads and leave. He calls that character “Networking Ned” which just cracks me up.
Ironically, the first time I met Travis Chappell was at Pat Flynn’s networking event in San Diego, prior to Social Media Marketing World 2018 and I remember him being an excellent networker before I even knew what he did. Here is what I noticed.
He looked me in the eye. He didn’t look around the room when I was talking. He asked me relevant questions about what I did. Then he asked if he could add me on Facebook. He sent me a message over the weekend about how great it was to connect.
In general, his superpower is that he put me at ease and it allowed me to be myself and shine during that interaction. Because we became Facebook friends and connected that night, we went on to work with each other in multiple capacities organically. That’s how this works.
But from that initial moment, I decided, even if I personally felt awkward, I would try to make whoever I was talking to feel just as at-ease as I felt talking to Travis.
- Flip the Switch
I flip the emotion from networking being about me to being about other people. We are all inside our own heads, believe me. Coincidentally by focusing on how I could make someone else feel at ease, I have learned so much more about other interesting people.
Some tips: Ask genuine relevant questions, body language is the real MVP, look at the person you’re talking to and don’t look for the next connection. If possible, have a buddy who can save you from a bad or harmful networking situation, or one who works charismatically with you to improve networking situations.
- Wine helps (me.)
I will be brutally honest and maybe controversial and say that having a glass of wine or a light drink before I start can really help lighten the social anxiety. Please keep in mind I am not advocating drinking alcohol if this is not part of your lifestyle. I do feel that this can be helpful or hurtful to different individuals, however, I am telling you what helps me, and me alone. If you want to be my best friend at a networking event, get me my first glass of wine (my love for Cabernet runs deep) and I’ll be grateful to you in more ways than you’ll ever even know.
- Lastly, I just keep showing up.
Don’t give up. This is largely a trait of who I am as a person, and if I could bottle it up and give it to others I would. But this is truly the most important part of how networking has become easier for me. I just keep doing it. I show up even when I absolutely am dreading it. I channel the few minutes of courage I need to get me to a place… and then I make it happen. In the end, I am ALWAYS grateful I did. Surely, I can think of awful and cringeworthy moments in every networking situation, but the big picture has been worth it in the relationships I have been able to build.
So… Sorry, Not Sorry. I meant for this to be short and sweet but I felt the need to put into words what is going on in my head so that maybe if you’re feeling similar, you may find some relief in knowing you’re not alone.
NOTE: I wrote most of this on the tail-end of attending a networking conference in the UK that I traveled to alone, with no friends, (forgot to post it until now) and knew no one attending. I just finished it up now.
Through various friendships, all of which I have met through networking, I was introduced through emails, text messages, and Instagram dm’s with several people attending the conference, simply because I had the courage to buy the ticket, go to the conference and, ask for a little help. Some of those standout connections I made there were Andy Storch, Andrew & Pete, and Bob Gentle. People worth following their drive and passion.
Now, I have new friends, new memories, and in the big picture, a couple of new clients. Do you like the sound of this? I do.