Social events, we’re all required to attend them…. some we enjoy…. and others make us feel sick with dread. For instance, today is the annual ‘highlights’ day at work. The department is presented with all the titles that we’re going to publish next year. It’s a whole day event and in the evening we network and socialise with the authors. Then we go out for a department meal and sit according to a detailed seating plan. I only have one word in response; “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!”
I’m not terrible at networking.. but I’m not what you’d call a socially aggressive person (the type that will burst into a group of people who are clearly having a conversation and introduce themselves.).
Meow! I’m naturally an introvert, so I prefer smaller groups of people and having intimate conversations rather than talking complete bullshit to thirty people. Meow again. In a nutshell, mass social interaction is not something which comes natural to me. It’s something that I’ve learned over the past year and I’ve trained myself how to act with confidence (ish). If like me you struggle in this area here are a few pieces of advice I can offer:
1. It’s useful to remember that the event is always worse in your head than in reality (sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how we work ourselves up.) In my experience, the first five minutes is awkward and weird, but then you settle into your surroundings and it gets easier. So it’s comforting to remember the following statement before turning up; “The way I’m feeling now is the worst I will feel, it can only get better from here.”
2. Get yourself a drink, they don’t call it Dutch courage for nothing! I’m not suggesting that alcohol is a long term solution, but it usually takes the edge of the nerves. (One drink, not five. You don’t want to be the one who got so drunk they fell asleep in the toilets!) Often alcohol has a placebo effect, so in time you hopefully won’t need it anymore.
3. Don’t stay with your pack. Try and resist the temptation to stick with your close colleagues, make yourself talk to at least one new person. In my experience it’s easier to network on your own rather than in a group (as you push yourself that bit more.) Believe me I know how horrendous what I’m asking you to do is.. but it’ll make you feel calmer when attending the next event, because you’ll know that you can do it. Also, if your pack spreads out then it’ll be easier for each of you to join other groups later on (as you can introduce each other.)
4. Go for the weaker targets! Start small, don’t go and talk to the MD on your first attempt! Look for someone or a small group on the edge of the room and casually approach them. Chances are they’ll be feeling awkward to and will happily receive you. I’ve listed a few useful conversation starters at the bottom of this post.
5. Don’t take it personally if the other person doesn’t response in a positive/welcoming way. I was once chatting to a Sales Director at an event. He seemed really interested in what I had to say and I was enjoying his conversation. Suddenly (I was literally mid-sentence) he abruptly stepped past me and enthusiastically introduced himself to someone he deemed more important. He was just using me as a ‘stand in’ conversation whilst waiting for the real object of his interest to become available. It was brutal and left me feeling self-concious, boring and redundant. It also knocked my confidence and I left soon after. However, the next day I realised that I’d taken the whole thing very personally (it’s what I do.) I now understand why he acted in that way. I don’t approve of it and to this day I don’t like to engage this person in conversation, (too flaky for my taste.) Nevertheless, the situation had nothing to do with me and my personality. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s always a rational response to a situation. That doesn’t mean that you should beat yourself up for feeling bad, emotions are innate and we can’t control them.
6. When a situation makes you feel bad, it’s helps to retreat to the toilets or a private area and do the following for five whole minutes: Embrace it, accept it, feel it, rationalise it, disregard it, move forward. Don’t carry the negative thoughts and feelings around with you all evening, it’s best to let them have centre stage for a short period of time and then brush them aside.
Sorry to interrupt, hello I don’t think we’ve met before? I’m NAME, I work in the WHAT team.
So how do you know NAME?
That’s a beautiful necklace, where did you get it from?
Do you mind if I join you for a moment? I don’t really recognise anyone here yet