With networking events becoming a significant component of professional success, this is a guide on how to not make a fool of yourself in social situations.
For those of us living and working in urban areas and trying to climb the professional ladder, the idea of networking is a familiar buzz word.
Roughly defined, networking means attending social gatherings, events and/or situations with the intention of making professional connections.
These social events can take many forms such as cocktail parties, book launches, art shows or weekend retreats.
The commonality is that those attending the event are strangers who have the shared purpose of wanting to build professional bridges and meet like-minded individuals.
You can attend a networking events with a defined purpose like finding investors for your new start-up idea or you can attend to simply create new friendships with people who also work in your chosen field.
The problem is that for many people a room full of strangers is overwhelming and daunting at best and anxiety and panic inducing at worst.
With networking events becoming a significant component of landing your dream job and professional success; this is a guide to not making a fool of yourself at your next social situation.
Acknowledge Your Purpose
To combat feelings of anxiousness and panic, acknowledge the reasons why you are attending this particular event before you walk through the door. Are you attempting to meet mentors in your field? Push yourself to do something unfamiliar?
Build friendships with like-minded individuals? Find inspiration in the work of others? Whatever your reason, remind yourself of it and acknowledge that it is valid.
Bring a Safe Person
For people who struggle with intense social anxiety, bringing a ‘safe person’ can be extremely calming and reassuring. Having someone else by your side may make you feel more comfortable if you are in a room full of strange faces.
Make sure to tell your safe person about your social anxiety previous to entering the event to avoid them getting frustrated with you for being shy or pushing you past your limits such as talking to people when you are not ready.
If this person is more of an extravert, they may be able to “wingman” and make the first move in beginning conversations for you or support you when you stumble over your words.
Take a Few Minutes
If you know that social gatherings are a trigger for you, acknowledge this fact. Identifying a personal trigger beforehand can mitigate the shock of panicking as soon as you walk in the door.
If you are conscious about this being a trigger, take a few minutes before entering the room to go somewhere peaceful, close your eyes, take deep breaths and identify and observe what thoughts are going through your mind.
Another foolproof strategy for approaching new people in social situations and ‘breaking the ice’ is to give compliments. If you see a woman whose dress you love or a guy with a cool jacket, let them know.
Compliments begin a conversation from a place of positivity and warmth and can be a useful tool for easing into a deeper conversation.
Know You’re Not Alone
When thoughts of self-doubt and anxiousness pop up, remind yourself that you are not the only person in the room who is panicking or struggling with social anxiety.
Feeling shy, awkward and out of your comfort zone in events full of people you have never met is a normal and extremely common response.
Remember that people are attending the event because they want to meet new people and make connections, therefore people want to talk to you and hear your thoughts and ideas.
Put Down Your Phone And Your Drink
When feeling anxious about being in a social gathering, you may be tempted to fall back on unhealthy coping mechanisms such as pouring another glass of wine or disassociating by going on your phone.
Try and avoid these habits. While one glass of merlot may work as a social lubricant, drinking too much may make you forget your purpose in attending the event and make you act sloppy or do things you later regret.
Moreover, hiding behind your phone screen will prevent other people from approaching you. It gives off the vibe that you are preoccupied, bored or disinterested in what is happening around you.
Cognitive reframing is a technique where you reframe a situation that appears to be a weakness into a strength or see a negative as a positive in order to recognize and the value of it.
Instead of understanding your anxiety as something that is holding you back, reframe it as an opportunity for you to challenge yourself and see it as a motivational force.
Think about the story that you are telling yourself. If it is that you are nervous and anxious and ill-prepared and that everyone will think you are stupid and laugh at you; try reframing the situation into a different message.
For example, “I am nervous about being in an unfamiliar social situation, therefore I am going to use this anxious energy towards preparing and strategizing”.
This way of thinking allows “I am feeling so anxious, I will not be able to connect with anyone” to become “I am feeling anxious, therefore I will be able to connect with and relate to other people who are feeling this way also”.
It is a strategy that changes “starting at the bottom” to “knowing what the bottom is like”.
Do you have personal horror stories from attending networking events?
What strategies work for you when you attempt to prevent panicking and combat self-doubt, shyness and anxiety at professional gatherings?
This article was written by Sadie Stephens and originally appeared on See Girl Work.