It’s Not Always Easy, But It’s Worth It

Entrepreneurs, Events, Public Relations Posted May 13, 2014 by chenpr

Last week our newest CHENner, Mike Spinney, shared with the team an article he wrote for Inc. Magazine in 2006 called, “Learning to Love broadNetworking.” The story of shy guy-turned master glad hander Reed Thompson struck a chord with me.

Briefly, the article tells Reed’s story of growing from someone who dreaded attending networking events to someone who, ten years later, had become a seasoned networking pro with a successful business built on those skills.

As a 24 year old working at a high tech PR firm, I can unequivocally relate to the first half of Reed’s story.

If you asked any of my current or former colleagues they might describe me as outgoing, boisterous and talkative (maybe even TOO talkative at times). But if you were to ask friends or family that I know more intimately they would probably say that if I walked into a crowded room full of strangers my first instinct would be to run in the opposite direction, leaving a Shannon-shaped hole in the door–Looney Tunes style.

Like Reed, when I first began my career in a field chock full of networking, social events and the occasional (ok more than occasional) schmooze, the thought of walking into a room of strangers and somehow working my way into their conversations without looking or sounding like a putz filled me with nausea and anxiety. It’s easy to be a big loud ball of personality around those I know and am comfortable with, but for reasons I’ll never fully understand, the idea of approaching a group of new people only led to sweaty palms, an overwhelming feeling of intimidation, and a dire need for an antacid.

Perhaps it’s social awkwardness or a lack of that certain innate charm people gravitate towards at these types of events, but breaking out of my shell at business gatherings turned out to be my biggest challenge in cultivating my PR career. But I’m learning that a lot of people face the same struggles as me and Reed—a fear of the unknown and unpredictable.

Intense worry manifests in not knowing whether or not you’ll say the right thing or if you’ll give the impression that you fit in. When I first started at CHEN, I attended events filled with brilliant developers, charming CEOs and seasoned marketing and PR professionals. It was painful. I was filled with anxiety. I wasn’t sure I was qualified to be there.

Remember that scene in Space Jam when Sniffles the mouse gets squashed with a basketball by one of the MonStars? That was playing on a loop in my head.

With time and experience I learned that I am not Sniffles and the professionals attending networking events are definitely not the MonStars. I learned this lesson thanks to the inspiring and helpful group I’m surrounded by within CHEN and our friends in the innovation community.

I’ve now been at CHEN PR for just over a year and a half and something valuable that I’ve learned while addressing my anxiety towards networking and social events is that it is OK to feel that way because I am far from alone. Networking is a vital aspect of my chosen career path—a career I’m passionate about—and I’m not about to let fear hinder my growth.

It’s still something I work on with every event I attend, and some go better than others, but as my confidence grows I’m able to look into a room full of strangers and not want to get my Roadrunner on.road-runner-1

Networking and putting yourself out there in a new and fast-paced environment is intimidating to a lot of people, especially those of us who are just starting out in our careers. But schmooze anxiety doesn’t have to be permanent and confidence is key to overcoming! You’re not alone either. It’s more than likely that someone on your management team has or knows someone who has had to overcome a similar fear and they can be a valuable resource in your development as a networking pro. Don’t be afraid to reach out, it would be a shame to miss out on meeting some fascinating people because you were too nervous to approach them. Your colleagues want to help you grow in any way they can so take advantage of their experience.

Often we imagine the situation to be far worse than it is, needlessly erecting obstacles of our own making.

I once attended a panel at MIT on the topic of security and personal information. At the end of the session a number of attendees who had been sitting near me (a group of men about twice my age) all stood up and started chatting about social media and the personal information most people seem willing to hand over. Rather than stand there awkwardly I threw myself into the conversation and made a joke about the Boston Bruins’ former goalie and outspoken Facebooker Tim Thomas. The response? Crickets…

Was it embarrassing that none of them knew what I was talking about? Yes. Was it the end of the world? No! In fact, after a brief but awkward moment the group continued their conversation–and included me.  It was a valuable lesson and one that helped to make me more comfortable in that type of setting while helping to dispel some of my networking self-doubt.

With each experience I grow more comfortable as a networker. And while I have yet to achieve “master glad-hander” status, I no longer approach those events with trepidation, but with anticipation over who I might meet and what I might learn.