I used to know how to work a room.
Back in the day, when I was running Underdog Seattle’s bowling and mini-golf leagues, I used to have to stand up and speak to a large group of people, most of whom I’d never met. I was confident, funny, and charismatic. Of course, they were drinking, and I was giving away free t-shirts, so all of my jokes were funny, and naturally, all of the women found me charismatic and attractive. I was good with people, and people responded well to me.
So it was with that confidence that I walked into the Renton Tea Palace for the Linked:Seattle networking event. With elevator speeches, value propositions, and new clients and jobs dancing in my head, I walked into the room.
What is going on here? I’m standing here, speechless, and breaking out in a cold sweat, and completely unable to form a complete, coherent sentence. I make a lap around the room. Man, there’s a lot of people here. I’d later find out that there were over 600 people there. 600 potential clients. 600 potential employers. 600 potential contacts that could help me find clients or a job. I looked a people in their suits, jamming resumes into any free hand they could find, and I choked. This would have been a lot easier if my wingman hadn’t bailed on me at the last minute, I tell myself. I can’t do this.
So I left. Actually, ran screaming from the room might have been a better description.
I talked to Melissa while I walked to the car. I’m not quite sure what I’d do without her ability to talk me off ledges on a daily basis. She told me to take a deep breath, and remember that I thrive in those environments. She told me to not try and conquer the room in one fell swoop, but to just talk to people. I decided to give it another shot. Besides, I’d driven all the way down to Renton from Bothell in rush hour traffic, so I may as well get something for that two hours of my life.
Instead of trying to tackle this large group at once, trying to figure out what they could do for me, I decided to just hang out, be friendly, and see what happens. So I grabbed a beer, and took another lap. This time, I kept my head up, making contact, and smiling at people. And I met a couple of really nice people. There was the recruiter who immediately gave me a contact after he found out what I do for a living. There was the marketing director who found my name hysterically funny, and advised me to take a look at motion graphics. I met a woman from the local Alpha Kappa Alpha graduate chapter, who actually saw my profile on the RSVP, and was actually hoping that I would be there, because she really wanted to meet me. They need help with their website, and they were hoping that I could help. And I met a very lovely woman who got laid off, reevaluated her life, and is now working just so she can go home to Israel.
Each person had a different story, and instead of trying to see what they could do for me, I just tried to make pleasant conversation. I’ve long believed that “networking” and “making friends” really aren’t that different-at its core, you’re just building relationships. I’d forgotten that going into the Tea Palace yesterday. The next event, I’ll definitely be prepared and in the right mindset.
And what if you’re not confident, charismatic, and a great people person, like me? Well, just do what I did all those years ago-fake it until you make it!