Scenario: you get an email inviting you to attend xyz event. You won’t know anyone there but you know you should go because:
1. Interesting things will happen that you’re actually interested in;
2. It’s a great way to meet like-minded people;
3. Opportunities are still built on a foundation of who you know and who knows you, so you got to play the game to be in the game;
4. It’s summer season for TV in the US and there’s nothing else to do on a Thursday night.
If, like me, your initial reaction is a feeling of immense dread, heart palpitations, and imagined scenarios of accidentally spraying a VIP with food when you speak, then I have some tips for you that I’ve learned along the way after pulling off the greatest con of all time*.
I have fooled others into thinking I am an extrovert.
Life of the party. Witty small talker. Fantastic dancer (maybe not).
Truth is, I am an introvert. I prefer small groups, one-on-one interactions, and then being able to unwind with a book and a glass of wine afterwards. I just practiced being an extrovert.
The beginning of my transformation began with a Roman summer in 2014. Jet lagged, but still fresh faced, I was at the beginning of a six-month internship. It was only as I stood lost at the front of the work cafeteria that I realised it had been a long time since I was the new kid on the playground. I had to re-learn how to make friends, and fast, because gelato for one is just sad.
As such I present to you the playbook.
The Playbook Vol. II : Suit up. Win friends. Be awesome**.
1. Fake it til you make it!
That’s not to say you should lie about yourself and introduce yourself as Thor and tell everyone about the time that you saved the world. As Neha’s mum says “If you tell the truth you don’t have to have a good memory”. You might forget which world it was that you saved.
However, you can pump yourself up and imagine you are Thor, and carry yourself like Thor. Imagine his sense of confidence, and mimic it. Just don’t try to speak like Thor.
2. Arrive on time
This tip is purely tactics. Think about it, it’s an introvert’s worst nightmare to walk into a crowded room and have people look at you and then turn back to their groups. All the while you’re left hovering near the entrance unsure as to where/how to proceed.
However, if you go by the informal observational statistics that nobody arrives on time, you therefore have better odds of controlling the scenario. If you’re there first then the next person to arrive has to talk to you. Otherwise they look like a jerk, and so would you if you don’t talk to them. This is not exactly a hostage scenario, but it kind of is. The less people there are in a room, the more likely they will have to talk to you. Just don’t forget that you have to talk to them too.
End result, by the time the room is at capacity, bumping with awkward introductions, you’ve already made alliances and have someone/group to talk too, with the smug realisation that you’re not the awkward person who just walked into the room. Though you should be nice and invite them into your conversation.
3. Make medium talk
Small talk is awkward, and as the name implies, small. It often fails to give insight into a person, and bonds are more tenuous. The idea behind medium talk is that it enables a more insightful level of conversation, and can leave a greater feeling of satisfaction of having engaged in a meaningful way with another person. This article explains it with a bit more depth.
The advantage of using a medium talk approach at networking events is that it can help to get conversations flowing, and leave a greater impression on the other party.
So next time, instead of flailing for topics after the typical “what do you do?” question, try asking others like “what brought you here tonight?”, or perhaps “What’s something you like that most people don’t?”.
For better ideas have a trawl through this Reddit post “What kind of questions would you ask to make medium talk, instead of small talk?”, and post your suggestions in the comments below!
4. Know who you are
As we’ve established, you’re not Thor. Though you might pretend to have the confidence of Thor. Just superimpose that sense of confidence onto your own persona.
To do that, you need to work out who exactly you are, and what it is that you are known for. It’s the 101 of reality TV, bring your own brand (BYOB).
Example: Amanda Taylor, witty blogger by day, gelato aficionado by night (seriously guys, if the gelato is icy in texture, it’s ice-cream. NOT GELATO).
5. Power pose
This one is my favourite. Watch this youtube video on power posing by social psychologist Amy Cuddy. The theory presented is that “standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success”
So shake your tail feathers out, get your Wonder Woman pose on, and then go work that room like the queen/boss that you know you are.
6. Say ‘yes’ to every invitation
Because, practice makes perfect.
So the next time you’re standing at the precipice, wondering if you dare say yes to a networking event, or anything else that scares you, I hope these tips will help to provide you with a shot of courage to say yes and to take that leap.
As the saying goes, you’ll never, ever know if you never, ever go.
I’d also love to hear your tips for networking, or medium talk suggestions below.
*Not all claims are based on fact.
**Not endorsed by Barney Stinson
If I had to sum up in two words the ‘key’ to networking and communication within my experience of the development sector, it really is as simple as be yourself. Believe me I both know and hate how cliché that sounds, but as my mum (and many others before her) have told me time and time again if you tell the truth you don’t have to have a good memory. Well as someone who absolutely does not have a good memory this quote has always resonated with me as a reminder of the true value of authenticity.
I often feel as though ‘networking’ carries this underlying feeling of immense dread, particularly with students. I distinctly remember when I first began the MIDP program being invited to numerous networking events. In my head I pictured this to be politely making small talk with older people in suits, while simultaneously staring down the waiters/waitresses carrying trays of mouth-watering appetisers, boy was I wrong!
In 2015 I was selected as one of eight students as an intern for the Monash University Global Discovery Program, launching in New York. In the pre-departure briefing it was drilled into us that a key part of this program would be to expand our networks. We were after all spending our days meeting with people in key leadership positions across a variety of organisations, ranging from the development, finance, media, technology and political sectors.
To say I was nervous at our first meeting with Katherine Oliver, a senior principal at Bloomberg Associates is a gross understatement. In the words of Eminem my ‘palms were sweaty, knees weak, arms were heavy.’ However within the first five minutes my nerves had subsided. Katherine opened with a statement about her childhood and how one small but humorous experience shaped her life perspective and thus career trajectory.
There were two learnings I derived from the way she communicated with us. Firstly, small though Katherine’s childhood analogy may have been, it almost humanised her, despite her status as one of the most powerful figures in New York, and this was vital in creating a comfortable and relaxed environment. Secondly, the importance of using personal narrative to engage and leave a lasting impression.
Upon returning home the eight of us were invited to a high profile alumni dinner. On my table I was the only female and the youngest by approximately 30-40 years. I will admit I expected nothing more than moderate small talk or to largely be ignored. Again, boy was I wrong!
Being the ‘youthful’ guest I was somehow able to capture everyone’s attention through divulging my own personal narrative and particularly decisions and life experiences that had lead me to pursue a career in the development sector and landed me in New York for the internship.
We went from awkwardly nibbling at our bread rolls to each sharing stories of the past, highlighting key life events, vividly describing hilarious family stories and thus creating an open, social and informal environment, where we were really given the opportunity to learn about one another on a personal and professional level. What’s better? A good 8-10 business cards were exchanged that night, solidifying professional relationships.
Although certain situations may call for it, networking doesn’t always have be rigid and formal. The key is to assert your emotional intelligence and identify ways in which to ‘break the ice’ with your counterpart to really keep the conversation flowing. Also don’t forget to leave something tangible, whether that is a business card, linked-in add or the all-important follow up e-mail to guarantee you’ll be a face and name that won’t be forgotten easily.
I want to draw back on the idea of ‘authenticity’ in communication, a notion often undervalued in professional contexts, at least I feel it is. How many times have you heard the phrase ‘this is a strictly professional environment’ and how many times has that made you fearful of doing or saying the ‘wrong thing.’
My question is who defines what exactly constitutes as professional communication, and is our current interpretation of this concept necessarily applicable in all contexts. Does it always have to translate into stiff and awkward behaviour, and a competition to see who can best impress prospective employers and hand out the most business cards?
Don’t get me wrong, by no means am I suggesting you down as many of the available alcoholic beverages as possible and proceed to rambunctiously intrude on each and every conversation, giving everyone a friendly ‘slap on the back’ (yes I have seen this happen). What I’m trying to get at is once you’ve built rapport with the person it’s okay to drop the front, there’s nothing wrong with staying true to yourself. In fact people are often drawn to you when you’re more relatable and exuding ‘good vibes,’ and believe me this doesn’t happen when you’re feeling pressure to impress and put on a ‘perfect’ front.
My mentor once told me, something that stood out to her when we first started communicating was the honesty and vulnerability in the way I spoke, the way I would reference personal life experiences explain my perspective and detail what I want to do and why, and in her opinion not afraid to constantly ask questions (truth be told I was a little afraid haha..). She constantly reiterated that if I remember nothing else as I navigate my way through this sector, to retain that open and honest communication in all my personal and professional interactions. This goes to show, the way in which I communicate, something I’d always assumed would be my downfall is in fact something that she believes is integral to one’s journey within the sector.
I hope after reading this, you have to some degree seen some value in my mum’s favourite phrase- If you tell the truth you don’t have to have a good memory. Yes, I truly do believe this applies to networking and communication in the development sector.