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Networking for the Socially Awkward

written by Elena Strange
Elena Strange
Topics: Career, Events, Networking
Veiw all posts written by

We all know we need to network. Networking events create opportunities, and they help us establish connections with other professionals whose help we might call upon someday. Conferences, group networking, and even company events fall in this category. But they can be hard for the socially awkward, those of us who struggle in social situations and would rather be at home anyway.

Among us techie types, I find that the socially inept comes in two flavors: those who withdraw from the crowd and conversation completely, and those who turn into total spazzes. I myself fall into the second category. In fact, I’m currently living under a pallor of shame from having devolved into a shrieking fangirl upon meeting the Go-Go’s drummer at a recent work-related event.

So I clearly haven’t conquered my awkwardness, but I have developed some mitigation strategies over the years that help me through some of these situations:

  • Just go. For us maladroits, it can be easy to simply pass up networking events and work-related social activities. You know they’re important, though, so commit yourself to going. I volunteer with sfAWIS, a gig I could do entirely from behind my computer. As a volunteer, though, it’s important for me to attend the monthly events, so I do (usually).
  • Help out. Maybe the organizer needs help setting up, taking care of the refreshments, sharing the hashtag. Volunteer to lend a hand. Being busy makes you less self-conscious and it invites conversation from those new to the event. Plus, making a connection with the organizer is itself networking.
  • Ask questions. If you ask people about themselves, they’ll think you’re incredibly fascinating. And it saves you from having to talk too much. Win-win!
  • Prep your elevator pitch. People will ask about you, too. Prep and (if you need to; I do) practice your 30-second job description. Have a 2-minute version handy, too, for the folks who are especially interested.
  • Embrace the awkward. In addition to being awkward, I am also bubbly and exciteable (see above, re. Go-Go’s drummer). I can’t pretend to be smooth and cool no matter how much networking practice I get. So when I meet new people, I don’t fight my instinct to bound up and go “Hi! I’m Laney!” It gets the ball rolling and lets them know how spazzy I am. Hey, just being myself.
  • Follow up. This can be the hardest part. When you come home from a conference or event and have a stack of business cards in your hand, you need to send emails to the folks you met. God, what do I say? Am I wasting this person’s time? Do they even remember me? My advice here is to keep it short, sweet, and personal. Four sentences, tops. I try to reference a particular conversation I had with that person. If I really want a response, I ask a question. Then, I cringe when I press “send” and try not to think about it again. That’s just me.

Do you struggle with awkwardness at networking events? How do you deal with it?

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