Raise your hand if the thought of walking into an event where you don’t know a soul gives you major anxiety. (Raising my hand over here, or at least kinda.) As a blogger and someone who is put in pretty awkward/small-talk situations often, this was something that really, really stressed me out – and still does sometimes, before I talk myself out of it. I used to just not go if I couldn’t bring Lisel or if someone I knew wasn’t going to be there, which, quite honestly, isn’t good for business. And as an adult, I wanted to conquer this fear of being a “loner” or “awkward” with a room of strangers.
Last week, when I was in New York for Create & Cultivate, I found myself dreading going to the happy hour on Friday night. The friend I was with wasn’t into going, but I thought it sounded fun slash a good networking opportunity, so I had a choice to make. Stay home and be comfortable with my friends, or go solo (all the way into the city) and figure it out. I won’t lie, I went back and fourth for about an hour, then in classic Brighton fashion, I decided to go about 20 seconds before I needed to be there. And in my cab on the way there, I realized that this was probably an issue for more people than just me. I couldn’t be the only one who stressed out over these instances!
I’ve done a pretty good job working to get confident in these situations (hence how I was able to go), and I think it’s worth sharing with y’all. Also, I figure writing something like this will make us all conscious of when you see a person at a party who looks solo, to make them feel comfy. Kinda like paying it forward loner addition lol. Anyways, here are the tips that have MAJORILY helped me feel OK going places alone (and still working on it, so would love to hear how you handle these times in the comments!).
Just like I did in the cab on the way to the happy hour and like I do before any event (even if I am with friends but know I need to socialize outside my circle), it’s important to have an inner dialogue with yourself. Think about the very worst case that could happen, which is usually you get free food/drinks and stand in a corner alone – never actually happens, and even if it did, free food! After that, I remind myself that the majority of the party is going to network and chat – they wouldn’t be going if they weren’t interested in meeting people. Then, a few deep breaths or some fun music on the way and you’ll be in a much better head space.
Wear Something Comfortable
This might seem weird because we’re talking about networking, but think about how much more confident you feel – in general – when you like your outfit. This isn’t the time to wear something crazy or uncomfortable – dress like yourself in something that feels good. Having to run to the bathroom every 5 min to adjust or not being able to stand and talk because your shoes suck isn’t smart.
Find Small Groups
A guy friend of mine told me this a long time ago and I’ve always used it at social events, not just when dating. He told me that he’ll only go up to a small group of girls at a bar or whatever if he’s trying to talk to one of the girls (aka hit on her). Big groups are too intimidating or hard to get into and one-on-one might be awkward. So find a small group of people, walk up and introduce yourself. I find that being honest with “Hey! I’m Brighton – I’m here for X and don’t know many people – did y’all come together?” is a totally fine and even respected intro. A lot of times people are in the same boat, or at least they are more likely to let me crash their convo once they know I’m by myself – because we’ve all been there!
Have Talking Points
It might feel rehearsed, but I like having some talking points in the back of my head – I’ll even put some together on my way there. Instead of reverting to talking about the weather or something totally boring, ask what they have planned for the upcoming weekend, if they’ve visited the city before, what their favorite place to grab drinks close by is, etc. And remember – most people really enjoy talking about themselves and it makes them feel comfortable, so don’t be afraid to ask questions (just not crazy personal ones off the bat obviously).
Smile, stand with your arms uncrossed, look people in the eyes, wave back if someone waves, etc. All the rules that apply to good manners and a friendly attitude will come in handy when trying to connect with strangers. I also like to have something in one of my hands, whether it’s a drink or food – it just makes me more comfortable to stand holding something for some reason. Is that weird? And put the phone away! People might not approach you if you’re on your phone looking busy the whole time, and if you’re actually there to network, you’ll miss the point.
Remember This Rule
No one worries about you as much as you worry about you. Think about it! When’s the last time you really analyzed what a stranger was doing, saying, or even wearing? All the small things you start stressing about in your head are 99% not going to be noticed by someone else, and they are likely worrying about what you’re thinking. So stay out of your head and do not stress the little things. I try to keep this in mind whenever I have anxiety in general, and it helps like whoa.
Speaking of the conference this weekend, this is what I wore to the actual day of panels and I absolutely LOVED this outfit y’all. Like YESSSS with the bright colors, boyfriend jeans, just the whole get up make me happy!
OK, now your turn! What helps networking when you don’t know anyone?
Brighton Your Day
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