I used to be terrified of going to formal networking events. I never felt like I had the right outfit; I wasn’t confident when talking about what it is that I do for a living; and the idea of having to stand alone at any point during the evening would overpower my thoughts and I’d become too scared to go.
There was a time when I was supposed to attend a really important event at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and as I was carrying my bicycle down my front steps to ride over there, I got sweaty and nervous and started to come up with a list of “what ifs?” My unrealistic assumptions of failure, caused me to chicken out. I carried my bike back inside and spent the evening watching the Real Housewives of New York City. It was hard to shake off the feeling of defeat and I couldn’t quite identify what it is that I was scared of. I performed comedy and storytelling on stage in front of strangers all the time. When I was in social situation with friends, I loved it. But the idea of going to something with the word “networking” in the title made me queasy.
Earlier this year, I made a deal with myself. Go to more events that are out of my comfort zone. And I’ve been doing it a little bit. I’m getting better at talking about myself, meeting new people, and following up afterwards. It’s not easy, it’s work.
Although I am making more of an effort to get my butt to the events, I found myself developing a new bad habit when networking. A few weeks ago I went to the signature event for Philly Tech Week at the Urban Outfitters Home Office down at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia. I brought my boyfriend and we both filled our pockets with business cards, ready to make new connections and mingle with a crowd that we didn’t otherwise spend time with. The amount of people at the party was overwhelming. We had to push through the sea of people to even get near the bar for a glass of wine. And, once we settled into a standing spot, we ran into a friend of ours and spent the remaining 90 minutes chatting with him!
Instead of meeting new people, we stayed in our comfort zone and chatted with the one person that we knew at the event. The business cards stayed in our pockets, and we went home having had a nice social evening — but not a networking one. I was a bit disappointed in myself. It is so much easier to catch up with old friends and acquaintances then to walk up to someone new and spark a conversation. I admitted that what I did was the easy way out, but would I really be able to accomplish my networking goals the next time I went out?
A week later I was teaching a storytelling workshop to a fabulous group of women of all ages and backgrounds. When introducing myself to the group as Hillary, one of the women yelled out, “Do you have a boyfriend named Bill?” As the Presidential election gets nearer and nearer, comments about my name are becoming more frequent. Instead of rolling my eyes or brushing it off, I launched into a story about how in middle school the boy who came before me in the roll call’s name was Bill. So the teachers would always say, “Bill?” “Here” “Hillary?” “Here” and the rest of our class would go “Oooooooooooooh. Bill and Hillary sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g.” It was the era of Bill Clinton as President and this went on for most of his time in office.
I’m really good at telling this story. Even though it was traumatic at the time, I can laugh about it now and it instantly makes others laugh. Once I share that story, tension is eased and I’ve made a connection with the audience that I’ve shared it with. Here’s a story that I can share with a group of strangers, no matter what sort of networking situation it is. And I’m happy to have it in my back pocket.
On Thursday, I was wrapping up a class that I’m taking as part of my Independence Fellowship for the Arts. There were only about eight of us in the class, but we didn’t really have a chance to chat too much during each session. On the last day, I happened to sit next to a woman that I hadn’t been sitting near prior. She was asking me what my plans were for continuing the type of work that we were doing in class and I asked her the same. It turns out that she is a police officer that is planning to make a podcast both about the police in Philadelphia and the community that they serve. She wants to collect their stories. I found this fascinating and it also connects to the work that I do with Tell Me A Story. So we exchanged business cards to follow up in the future. I also had a question relating to obtaining a police report and she offered to help me with that as well. It was a win win! I had just networked in an unexpected circumstances and I had succeeded.
Now that I’m equipped with stories and strategies from networking in off-the-beaten-path type situations, I am going to bring those tools with me to a larger, more formal networking event and put them to work. I recently joined the Philadelphia Chapter of the Ellevate Network and am eager to meet the women that are a part of this organization. I’m ready to share my stories to a new crowd.
And speaking of networking with stories, I am co-leading a webinar on the subject with the fabulous women of Vital Voice Training in New York City. This webinar will cover a ton of strategies and advice relating to networking. I’m going to focus on crafting personal stories that you can take with you. The ladies of Vital Voice will share tips and tricks relating to your presentation, reading body language, and saying your name with confidence and command.
We are running the webinar live on Tuesday, May 24th at 7pm. All you have to do is register in advance. We will send you the access link prior to the start time and you can sit back in your lounge wear at home, with a glass of wine or beer and enjoy. We will have a live Q+A as part of it as well and anyone who is watching can submit a question. It’s going to be a fun event. If you’d like to register use the promo code “TMAS” for $5 off your registration fee. You can sign up here.