Social Anxiety & the Networking Event

Business Networking – blah blah blah

I hate networking. There, I’ve said it.Perhaps you love it? Good for you. Can’t say the same. Perhaps you hate it too? In which case, welcome brother, welcome sister. We’re all friends here. Read on.

Aspergers, Social Anxiety, Business & the need for Networking

I have Aspergers Syndrome, and the Social Anxiety that goes with it. I’m fine with social media interaction, quite good at it in fact (even if I do say so myself). But, I find it hard to make small-talk in real life with people I don’t know.  I can handle 1-2-1s and small groups where I can hear myself think. I’m able to process what’s being said and formulate an answer with no problem at all. However, a large room full of extroverts is my idea of hell. I hate the noise levels, how far out of my comfort zone I feel, and I’m envious of the way extroverts make it look so easy.

I’m also freelance self-employed, with the need to attract new business and keep clients onboard. Given the need to actually sell my professional services to other people (so to speak) participating in networking and related events is a necessary evil. But how do I reconcile the business need to do it with my fear of social situations, especially networking events?

Events & the ‘6 P’s’

I’ve been invited to a popular Staffordshire-based marketing referral event on Wednesday. It’s not networking as such, but, you know, same ballpark. I’ve ordered 250 spot laminated business card to hand out whilst I’m there and I’ve paid in advance for my lunch and refreshments. How I’m going to manage to eat as well as interact with people I don’t quite know but I’ll get back to you on that one (update: with difficulty. Hint: you might want to get your money’s worth, but don’t overload your plate with food if you plan on talking to people as well)!

On top of the effort of actually attending an event where I’ve got to speak to people, I’m expected to stand up and give a 60 second presentation to a room full of people I don’t know about myself and my business. Horror of horrors!

The Scream - fear of the networking event
The Scream – fear of the networking event

Now, I’m very aware of the ‘6 Ps’:

Prior Preparation Prevents P**s Poor Performance

and that “failure to prepare is preparing to fail” so I’m going to do all I can over the next few days to get my presentation nailed down. Plus, you know, it could be worse… I could have to talk about myself for 2 minutes, or 5 minutes…

The third thing I did after booking my ticket for the event (1), and designing and ordering my 250 business cards (2), was to head for the bookcase and dig out my copy of ‘Networking for People Who Hate Networking‘ by Devora Zack (Berrett-Koehler, 2010). I interviewed Devora on the topic of her book and advice for introverts in business around the time that the book was published. The interview is still available here – albeit a subscription is required.

What does a book about networking & the film Kung Fu Panda have in common?

Just as the Dragon Scroll in Kung Fu Panda contains the secret to “limitless power”

You will never be the Dragon Warrior until you have learned the secret of the Dragon Scroll

– the book seems to hold the key to networking for the introverted, the overwhelmed and the under-connected. In fact, (spoiler alert) just as the Dragon Scroll is actually blank – very Zen

Kung Fu Panda Dragon Scroll
The secret of the Dragon Scroll

– the book tries to equip the reader with the tools he or she needs to navigate the networking minefield. There is no secret, no magical formula, just you yourself with hopefully a better understanding of introverts and extroverts once you’ve reached the end of the book. Lest you think that the book promises much but delivers little, it really doesn’t. There are many useful and practical networking hints and tips contained within it, I refer you back to the ‘6 Ps’, and it also offers a valuable insight into Devora’s own personality – one that as an Aspie I can readily identify with.

Devora states, towards the end of the book:

A sure way to fail is to pretend to be someone you are not. This sounds obvious, yet it is a path many of us attempt in vain. An enormous factor in successful networking is being comfortable with who you are and putting your best self out there.

And there’s the rub. Once you understand this you will become the Dragon Warrior of networking.

More Networking tips – 9, to be exact

Lydia Ramsey covers a lot of the same ground as Devora and gives us a fair few handy tips in her blog post on the same subject:

Here are a few tips to help you deal with the fear of networking and turn each one of these events into a profitable experience.

  1. Understand what networking is not. It is not about seeing how many hands you can shake or how many business cards you can collect.
  2. Understand what networking is. It is an opportunity to connect with people and build your business relationships.
  3. To be a successful networker, you need to know who will be attending the event. If you can’t get names, at least know which organizations will be represented.
  4. Plan in advance what you will talk about. Have specific topics in mind for those people whom you plan to see.
  5. Be prepared with a least three subjects you can discuss with anyone, whether they are strangers or people whom you already know. The best way to do this is to be up to date on current events. If you can’t make conversation, you can’t make connections.
  6. Listen more than you talk. People enjoy talking about themselves so give them the opportunity. You will learn more by listening, and the people you meet will think you are a great conversationalist.
  7. Arrive on time so you can become comfortable with the venue and be able to meet people as they arrive. If you join an event already underway, it will be more difficult to join conversations.
  8. Have plenty of your business cards with you and have them readily accessible. The person who has to fumble for a business card appears unprepared and unprofessional.
  9. Have a follow up plan for those people with whom you’d like to create or maintain a business relationship. As soon as you get back to your office, look at those business cards and decide whether you want to call someone, send an email or invite a person to lunch.

The successful networkers always attend events with confidence and assurance. They have a plan of action and a goal of growing their business by connecting with people face to face. Social media is no substitute for a personal encounter.

So, there you have it. I’m going back to preparing for Wednesday now. I’ll post on how it went at the tail end of next week. ‘Til then, happy networking.

Update: the follow-up blog post is now live – Being social from a distance

By GilesMDigital2015

Self-Employed Freelance Digital Marketing Executive, PPC-focussed.