Networking can be scary. Let’s just be honest here – you’re most likely attending events solo, it’s likely you don’t know a single other person in the crowded room, and then you’re expected to launch into a perfect “elevator pitch” that fully encapsulates you, your business, your goals, and why you’re there. That’s a lot to tackle!
After a lifetime of moving around the country and attending new schools, new jobs, and new neighborhoods, being the “new girl” doesn’t faze me much. Sure, I still get nervous and wonder if what I’m saying is making sense. Am I rambling? Have I talked for too long? Am I not asking enough questions? Too many questions? ACK!
But before all that craziness happens in my head, I have to locate the shiny new group I want to meet. This has proved more difficult than I ever imagined on multiple occasions and has bolstered my ability to boldly jump, sometimes misinformed, into new situations. C’est la vie.
It really all started a couple months ago when I ran off to join a new writer’s group at a nearby restaurant. A local author was coming in to talk and I thought this would be the perfect way to meet the group without feeling like I was invading their bimonthly critique circle. I rolled into the restaurant early and while I waited a tall skinny guy walked in looking around confusedly. Awesome! He must be new, too! I started chatting him up, introducing myself and being way more outgoing than usual. Soon a few others arrived and we all settled in at a big table on the second floor. The guy I was talking to takes his place at the head of the table. In front of a little podium. And thanks everyone for inviting him to come talk with the group… Whoops.
Lesson #1: Research who will be attending, especially if there are guest speakers presenting!
Since I had now met quite a few members of the writing group, I decided to join the critique meeting. They meet bimonthly at a coffee shop and the meeting details said that they sat “in the back on the couches.” Perfect. Location and seating included. Can’t screw this up! So, I walked in through the service door (not the front door, I can’t even get that part right…) and saw a group that looked vaguely familiar sitting on couches in the back. Score. I ASKED, “Is this the nonfiction writing group?” A middle-aged guy stood up and said, “Welcome! Take a seat.” I shook a few other hands then was passed a document with the Louisiana State University logo boldly printed at the top. This is odd, I thought, but then again this is a nonfiction group… maybe they review copywriting as well as long-form, creative work? As the men (all men) launched back into their conversation I realized that two of the 5 guys are wearing LSU polo shirts and that they’re discussing LSU alumni membership drives… Definitely not the right group! I excuse myself and go up to grab a much needed sanity coffee. Thank God, I noticed FOR REAL someone who attended the writing talk sitting at a nearby table and quickly joined him.
Lesson #2: Be friendly and most meeting groups will gladly invite you to join them.
Not too long after my LSU membership initiation, I went to a branding workshop in D.C. at the awesome WeWork Factory. I saw a few women who looked about my age asking where the WeWork meeting room was and I quickly followed. Upon hopping into the elevator with them, I explained my relief to have found the right location since, wouldn’t you know, I had joined the wrong group just the week before! Polite smiles. As the women waltzed into a conference room I overheard words like “java” and “coding” and realized, nope, not my group. Again.
Lesson #3: Be confident in your approach, but clear with your intentions.
So, while I can’t help you find the right group (Lord knows I’m still working on that!), I CAN confidently tell you that being outgoing and friendly goes a lot further than lurking and being skittish about joining a new group. The me five years ago, hell, two years ago, would have walked away and gone home when faced with ALL three of the situations above. Instead, I’ve made some awesome connections, learned a few things, and found a new coffee place to enjoy.
Alex Zamorski is a writer, editor, and publishing guide at Calamus Works. When she doesn’t have a red pen or notebook in her hands, she’s either reading or waiting for hockey season to start. Connect with her over on Twitter: @CalamusWorks.
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