**From next week I will be writing posts once every 2 weeks**
Part 1 of this post can be found here: How Networking Changed My Life
Never underestimate the power of a connection. Whether it's with someone in your industry or not, you never know where it could lead to 🌍
— C A R O (@talesofcaro) April 18, 2017
I am a self-professed awkward turtle.
My first networking experience was at a law school event that I attended when I was a sixth-form student. After much pushing and prompting from my Mum, I decided to go up to the dean of the law school and introduce myself. I stood tall, shoulders back and went for my target.
As my target slowly turned towards me, I began to mentally prepare myself for my “first professional handshake”. “This is it!”, I thought, “Put everything that you have learned into practice and give him a firm handshake”.
As his eyes locked into mine, I took a step forward and before I could stop myself, I loudly blurted out “Handshake!”.
Before I continue, I was 16 – so don’t judge me.
I am pretty sure that my face was dying to turn a thousand shades of red, but luckily my melanin spared me from further embarrassment.
It was an official awkward moment for the books.
Was it one of the most embarrassing? Yes. Did that happen again? No. Because I learnt from it – Literally.
If it wasn’t for me going up to the dean of the law school, I would have never found out about “training contracts” and I never would have known that there was a way to fund my legal studies; I would have completely ruled out law as an option.
Why I’m I telling you do this?
There are hundreds of articles on “How to Network”, “Your Network is your Net Worth”, truly the list of clichés is endless. However, reading through them is a waste of your time, until you decide that you are going to fully commit to developing your hustle muscle. Yes, your “Hustle Muscle”.
Don’t get me wrong. Networking can be awkward and that’s not just an introvert’s issue. Fake smiles and a room full of canapés that you somehow have to learn to eat and talk through at the same time – awkward. If you are also prone to awkward moments like me, networking is probably not your first choice of setting.
Anxiety still whizzes through me like a current whenever I reach out to a stranger, but the tips that I discuss below, have helped to make the sting a little less painful.
So here you have it: A Networking Guide for Awkward Turtles
YOUR SOCIAL NETWORK
Yes, you read correctly. That thing that you spend your time using to collect memes or to congratulate people on their new position if used correctly, can lead to your list of connections becoming as long as your timeline. My favourite thing about using social media, is that you can network from the comfort of your home. So if you are not yet completely comfortable with attending networking events, you can start building your hustle muscle by connecting with people online.
If you find someone on LinkedIn with a profile that interests you, add them!
It might seem obvious, but I have found that a lot of people only use LinkedIn to connect with people that they have met before. Whereas, a simple cold request can pave the way to a great connection.
Once someone accepts your request make sure that you send them a message. Don’t allow your connections to dwindle. Having 500+ connections on LinkedIn that are unused is pretty useless.
That’s just an example – adapt it to your needs. If you want a quicker response, it might be worth combining a LinkedIn request with…
*Insert here speech about creating a Twitter account that you don’t use for social commentary* – Glad we got that over with.
Often, people don’t read their LinkedIn messages so it’s much quicker to tweet them instead. When I was organising a conference at my University and I was looking for speakers, I created a new account, tweeted like my hands were on fire and received a response from the PA of the CEO of Anne Summers on the same day. Try it, it works.
Social media is also great for keeping up to date with networking events. I always get asked how I find out about the events that I attend and the answer is simple – social media. In fact, I got called an event whore last week (thanks Ra’ifah).
Eventually, once you get comfortable with cold emails, LinkedIn and Twitter putting yourself out there is essential. Try inviting a friend to go with you on your first time if that makes you more comfortable. Or, connecting with people that are going to the same event through Twitter. It will help you to calm the nerves.
Gentle plug, I share upcoming interesting events on Twitter via the hashtag #CAROplug.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
If you do decide to attend an event, please don’t go there not knowing what the speakers do. Doing your research is a must. This also helps with anxiety, because you know a bit about the people that you will be meeting and the audience before attending the event. It will also help to avoid that “I don’t know what to say” moment as you can think of questions beforehand.
I always try to have at least a couple of questions for each event. They don’t have to be grand, something has simple as “What’s the most interesting thing about your job” or “What’s your opinion on what has been happening in X industry”, can take you a long way.
Don’t be afraid to recycle the same questions with different speakers. Honestly, who is going to judge?
MAKE YOURSELF STICK
There is something unique about you.
Try to think of some facts about you that stick. If you are struggling, ask a friend.
I always try to subtly drop my Italian and Nigerian background in conversations, because it’s memorable. Obviously, find an appropriate time to do so, but make sure that you mention something that will allow the person that you are speaking to, to remember you. It could be a hobby or a skill. Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to make yourself stick.
The benefits are:
(1) You have something to say if you ever get yourself stuck in a dreaded “Ice Breaker”
(2) Whatever you mention, you can use it as the starting point for a follow up email or conversation.
Do make sure to listen intently to whoever you are speaking to. This might seem like an obvious point, but I have been to countless events where individuals are itching to talk about themselves without letting a potential connection get a word in – not cute.
Make sure you collect those business cards and follow up!
This is probably the most awkward one, but my last point above provides a good starting point.
Also, mention something that they said which interested you. This will show that you are keen and attentive. I usually say, “It was great to speak to you/hear about your talk on X and thank you for your advice on X”. Once you get the hang of it, it will become your second nature and you can reuse such phrases by replacing the information in “X”.
Lastly, I usually say “I will keep you updated on my progress”, so that if any event happens, such as passing law school (amen and hallelujah in advance), I can send them an email to update them. Which deals with the “how can I maintain a connection” problem.
Regardless of whether you are an introvert or an awkward turtle like me, always remember:The aim is not to become fearless, but to learn how to fear less. Click To Tweet
I tried not to make this post too long, but I hope you find something useful. If you do want me to develop further any of the points above, tweet me 🙂
Brave enough to share your most embarassing networking moment? Leave a comment below.