It’s a dilemma as old as time itself. How do you go from being a massive slob to looking at least vaguely put together?
1: You are uncertain of what to expect
Unfamiliar situations are always tricky. You don't know exactly where you are going, who is going to be there and whether or not you are going to make a fool of yourself. Your internal monologue probably sounds like a scared 6-year-old kid on their first day of school. "But mummy what if none of the kids want to talk to me?".
I am not saying all of this to stress or embarrass you, I am saying it because I get it. There is probably not a single person in the room that hasn't at one point or another had to face the fear of the uncertain. Whether it is going in for an interview or joining a new school, meeting your boss for the first time or going into a room full of people to give a presentation, we are all familiar with what it feels like.
What to do:
- Scout alert! If you know the venue, pop in a few days before and have a look around. You will feel more confident on the day, knowing where to go without looking like you're lost.
- Ask around! Maybe someone that already invited you has some tips and tricks on what to expect. Is the dress code business casual? Will there be food served on the day?
2: You are trying to avoid uncomfortable situations
Oh, the dreaded uncomfortable situation. Maybe you accidentally went for a hug instead of a handshake, dropped a glass of red wine on top of someone's white suit, or had cilantro stuck on your teeth while talking to a recruitment guy about internships. It is all possible. Heck, it probably has all happened at some stage.
What to do:
- Bring a friend! Your plus 1 will come in handy at the beginning when you are introducing yourself to others plus you can always use each other as an excuse if you need to make a hasty exit.
- Trick your mind! To get out of this mindset use some reverse psychology. Uncomfortable situations are the best! You want more of them in your life. They make for the best stories and the best laughs later on when you are telling your friends.
3: You are nervous approaching others
The first thing that you should keep repeating to yourself like a mantra is "it's normal". It's normal to be afraid, it's normal to feel awkward and uncomfortable and it's normal to be slightly stressed about it. That means that every single person in that room is probably experiencing the same thing.
What to do:
- Find the MC. Most networking events have one or multiple MC's who are there to facilitate conversation and make sure people like you do not linger on the outside for too long. If you already know the MC ask them to introduce you to a new person.
- Follow a step-by-step approach.
- Make your way towards the group.
- Make eye contact with the person and hover on the side.
- Listen to what they are discussing and wait for an opening.
- Wait for acknowledgment they have seen you and ask if you could join their conversation.
- Have an opening line. Offer your name and a firm handshake.
- Ask a question, show you are interested! If a discussion is already underway you can continue on from that topic.
Classic examples of conversation starters you can try
- What brings you here today?
- What is your story?
- What are you most passionate about?
- What do you want people to know about you that is not on your business card?
- (Bond over food) These little sandwiches are so incredible!
- (Bond over the venue) Have you been here before? This is such a stunning venue!
- (Bond over your introvert qualities - If you notice someone far away at the corner by themselves) Gosh, these networking events can get a bit loud right?
4: You think your age defines the value you bring
If you think that a student has nothing to offer at a networking event then you are simply wrong. If you think that scary grown-ups will not want to talk to you and they see you as just another kid that wants a job, you are half right. Some people will do that and those people will have missed an opportunity. They could be your future boss or you could be their future boss. In general, however, most of the "real grown-ups" will be open and inviting towards everyone, including students.
What to do:
- Impostor Syndrome no more! You are NOT unworthy of being there just because you don't have a grown-up job yet.
- Focus on your strengths! If you find you tend to lead conversations with all the things you are not yet able to do, stop! The person talking to you does not want to sit through a session of you belittling yourself.
- Come prepared! Whether it is having a few conversation starters, or being up to date with politics, business and other news from the world, having a go-to topic to discuss will appease your nerves.