Networking is one of those things that you HAVE to do if you want to get new clients, retain clients, meet new companies to work for, recruit people, and basically every other business essential. So, I go to networking events. And it never ends with me congratulating myself for a job well done in the car on my way home. Nope. It's always me shaking my head, wondering how this can possibly be helping my company. Here are three summaries of the networking events I have been to thus far in Richmond:
The first networking event I went to was after work in an area I did not know. I left work, only to realize that I had left too late to make it on time, so the entire time I was driving there I was having bad anxiety for being late. I show up late, only to realize that the start time was pretty lenient. So now I was that awkward person stress sweating in the corner over nothing. I spent the first few minutes mingling and making small talk. Then the speaker said it was time to start, but feel free to grab some appetizers since it was a casual event. So, I take that to mean that I should grab food.
I'm piling up my plate full of cheese, and then decide I want some grapes. Rather than walking around the table to grab the grapes, I just reach over, and BAM: knock over my full plate of cheese. So then I proceed to clean up all the cheese cubes off the floor, while the speaker is speaking. Once I am done, I decide to try again, since I am still hungry.
I get my cheese to my seat safely and devour it quickly to make the whole eating debacle end. The speaker ends and I am ready to get out. I've hit my limit on networking, so I make a B-line to the door. Naturally, I run into the speaker, who thanks me for coming and asks me if I had any questions. I froze on the spot. My mind was blank. Literally nothing was happening up in the barren wasteland of where my brain supposedly was.
"Thank you for the presentation! I was very interested in it," was all I managed as I stumbled back out onto the street. I kicked myself the whole way home for that one.
The second event I went to was a lot less traumatic. I went with a co-worker, so we stuck by each other and I created a lot less of a scene. I can't say this was a successful event since the only person I "networked" with was the woman I already worked with, but at least all the cheese stayed on the table this time.
The third event I went to gave me more social anxiety, as I knew I was going alone again. I literally had a nightmare the night before about what might go wrong. Regardless, I showed up, signed in, and went straight to the bathroom. It seemed like the place to go where being alone wasn't awkward. When I reemerged, I saw a friendly looking lady sitting in a corner alone. Naturally, that is where I wanted to go.
We chatted it up and exchanged business cards. It felt like I was actually networking properly this time. Then we go inside and I have some awkward dialogue with a few older men, and end up with a guy that decides to sit way too close to me. Beside the discomfort of someone within my personal bubble for the entire luncheon, there were only two awkward incidents at this event, which I will count as a victory.
My two awkward moments stem from asking these questions:
1. "What did you study to get a job like that?" On its face, it seems like a normal question, but I made an assumption that they went to school to study something, so there was a long awkward pause when it was admitted that she did not go to college. I tried playing it off, so hopefully it was only a little awkward.
2. "How long have you been in direct sales?" Again, I thought this seemed safe, but nay. This question went over like a lead balloon. The man cut his eyes to me and told me not to ask that. Apparently, men too have a complex when you ask them something that might indicate their age.
So maybe networking isn't my thing right now, but hopefully with a few more experience, I will walk away with more business contacts and less embarrassing stories to tell people.