As I stated in my “The Long Hiatus is Finally Over” post, one of my main goals this year is NETWORKING. So, I have been inviting folks to join my LinkedIn network, following more professionals on Twitter, and commenting on blogs and articles I find interesting. All of this increases my online presence and participation, however, one of the best ways to network is getting out there face to face with professionals.
I have started going to workshops and seminars to make this happen. I recently attended the RUNT. never underestimate event organized by Mathys + Potestio in downtown Portland. Runt is a quarterly professional development series from The Creative Party in partnership with the University of Oregon. The event discussed best practices to make freelancing work, featuring Jackie Mathys, Principle of Mathys+Potestio, and Portland based Melissa Delzio, a graphic design freelancer.
Typically, all these events begin with a 30-minute meet and greet period before the guest speaker(s) present. This is the grand networking opportunity. As I walked into the room that night, I signed in, grabbed a name tag and browsed the room. Everyone looked like they were there with another person; a friend, spouse, co-worker etc. I immediately felt so alone, and desperately wished I had brought a buddy or didn’t arrive so early. I was grateful that beer was being served, not because I needed a drink, but because it gave me something to do; at this point, I just wanted to kill time so that I didn’t have to be uncomfortable for any longer than necessary. Next, I headed to the bathroom, a natural time waster.
Realizing I needed a serious change in attitude, I gave myself a stern internal talk. “Look Heather, you are here to network, and get your name out there. You never know who you might meet, and what opportunities are waiting for you. So get out there and meet people!”
If only I had read a really awesome blog post on the dance of networking. I felt so awkward. How should I approach someone? What should I say? Should I be forceful in my mission, (I’m looking for work), or more reserved and talk about my interests and how great the beer is. Although I’m confident, and actually have quite a bit of experience talking in front of large groups, I can be shy, especially in a room full of people that I don’t know. Everyone that night seemed so professional, and I felt like an amateur. I was nervous I would interrupt a group of individuals that all knew each other well, and feel like an outsider.
Although I was nervous, I left that bathroom with one mission, find someone to introduce myself to, But sadly, I stalled some more. Still timid, I went straight to a display at the back of the room, pretending to look at the images, but really just scared to chat it up with a complete stranger. Plus, I was nervous about the possibility of interrupting a private conversation. I felt like such a child, but I knew I would be disappointed in myself if I didn’t just do it.
So I marched myself up to the first table I was near and simply said, “Do you mind if I join you all?” “Of course not,” the group replied, as they introduced themselves to me. It was really that easy. We all shared our interests, background, why we were at the event etc. They all knew each other, but my addition to the group didn’t seem out of place, and I felt comfortable right away.
I’m happy to report, that this particular networking dance has a great ending. It turns out, (lucky for me, or perfect serendipity), that one of the women in the group happened to be the moderator that evening, and employee of the very organization putting on the event, Mathys + Potestio. It just so happens, that this organization hires creative individuals for other organizations and businesses. Later in the week, I filled out an online application mentioning that I attended the RUNT event. I also sent an email to the woman I spoke with before the event, saying a quick hello, and attached my resume. I figured, maybe she would remember our brief encounter, and it certainly couldn’t hurt. I immediately received an email back asking if I would like to come into the office for a meet and greet!
Maybe my application was so amazing that I would have been called in regardless of my attending the event. However, I have a sneaking suspicion the fact that I took the time to attend RUNT, and the chance encounter with the employee prior to the event, may have been the very thing that pushed my application to the YES pile.
This incredible serendipitous evening may turn into a wonderful opportunity for me, (I shall keep you posted). Regardless of what happens however, I have learned a valuable lesson in actually meeting people during the “meet and greet” networking portion of events! Do you have a similar encouraging networking story? Tips that you would like to share in making networking more comfortable for those of us on the shy or timid side. Share below in the comments section!
Special thanks to the sponsors: PODS (Professional Outreach and Development for Students-Career Services @UO), and 10Barrel Brewing Company from Bend,OR. One can’t go wrong offering free delicious craft beer at an educational event!