I'm a massive introvert. When I tell most people this, they try to tell me I'm mistaken because I seem quite extroverted. (As mentioned before on this blog, I guess I'd consider myself more of an...ambivert?)
One of the hardest things for me to do, as an introvert, is network. Walking into a room full of people I don't know makes me anxious and tired. They don't really teach you in school the "right" way to network, and I don't think there really is a "right" way to do it, to be honest. Everyone has different styles and personalities, and what might work for one person won't exactly be right for you.
That's my way of saying: these tips are not definitive, surefire ways to become a networking expert. Over the past couple of years, as I've gone through networking events and talked to other people about networking (particularly, with my friends who are also introverts), I've learned a handful of things that might be helpful.
(And, with the annual Asian American Journalists Association Convention coming up, I figured now would be a good time for this...)
If you're afraid you'll get flustered even if you practice, make sure you have business cards on hand. This really should be a tip for everyone going into any networking event: have a way to identify yourself! Make sure you're exchanging cards with people, not just handing them out, so you can follow up afterwards. (Oh, and make sure your cards are in an easy-to-reach place. No one wants to awkwardly stand there while you dig through your bag or pockets for 15 seconds looking for a card...)
2. Be positive! The most tempting thing to do when you're feeling awkward and out of place somewhere is to talk about how awkward and out of place you feel. Don't. Avoid negatives, ask the person you're talking to how they are, how they're enjoying the event. If they say, "I'm pretty tired," feel free to empathize, but don't turn into a Debbie Downer.
3. PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN. I'm 100% guilty of doing this, and need to be better about it. It's a pretty common habit for people to be absorbed in their phones when they're waiting in line at Starbucks, commuting on the subway, riding an elevator...a lot of the time, it's because we're looking for distractions. Other times, it's because we want to avoid having to talk to anyone around us unless it's absolutely necessary. Both reasons are terrible for networking. Just put your phone in your bag or your pocket and save the texting or social media-ing for later.
5. Make it a game. Seriously, if you treat networking like a game – with challenges and rewards – the competitive side of your brain will instantly perk up. Challenge yourself to meet X-number of strangers, or commit to staying until a certain time. Yeah, it sounds like you're forcing yourself to do this, but sometimes, that's what you need in order to give yourself a push.
A couple of additional general conference-going tips:
- Wear good shoes! From a high heel-wearing perspective, I can tell you that it is not fun to be in pain a couple hours into a day. I would much rather wear my sensible shoes in the day, and save trendy heels for evening mixers.
- Carry snacks. We all get hangry, and sometimes, you don't know when you'll be able to grab a full meal (or maybe everything is hella overpriced at the venue you're at). Now, don't open loud wrappers and crunch away on your food during a speech or panel or anything, but be prepared for those moments in between sessions.
- Always have a bottle of water with you. This should be self-explanatory – and a no brainer! Except that I tend to forget this, so just in case you're like me...
- Find a conference buddy. Don't stick to this person like glue, but it never hurts to have a familiar face around. (Also, if you agree to be someone's conference buddy, don't be a flake on them. That's rude.)
So...a lot of those tips (and others I probably have floating around in my brain) are really about inventory...Basically, carry a good, well-stocked bag with you and you won't be sorry.
One more thing: don't underestimate how easy it is to leave a bad impression on someone. Last year at AAJA, there was someone I met who I could tell is very smart and driven and great at her job. She introduced herself on the first day, and we crossed paths several times throughout the day. On the second day, I was at the career fair chatting with college students about resumes and cover letters, and she came over to talk to me. We were having a decent conversation, though she looked distracted, when suddenly she cut me off mid-sentence with no warning, and walked past me. When I turned around, I saw she had made a beeline for a producer/internet celebrity at another company's booth. I realized then that the reason she looked distracted while we were talking was because she was keeping her eye on him the whole time so she could talk to him without awkwardly hanging around the booth like some of his fans were.
Anyways, moral of that story: I've crossed paths with her a couple of times since then, but that's the one thing I remember about her. (And no, I did not recommend her for any jobs.)
And, finally: I'll be on two panels this week at AAJA! On Thursday at 2PM, I'll be moderating AMA: How to Navigate the Newsroom and Become a Leader, and I'll also be in and out of NBCUniversity all day Thursday, and speaking on a panel there at 4:30 PM.
Along with that, I'll also be floating around at mixers and the career fair, so let's all get through this networking stuff together, shall we? :)