Sometimes I suprise myself.

After my success at the networking event for work I had to wonder if I had turned a corner, or if it had just been a fluke. When I arrived at the business networking event I had RSVPed for this week, I had decided it must have been a one-time-thing; my hands were shaking and I couldn’t get myself to introduce myself to the woman who rode the elevator up with me. Shit. I thought to myself – this is going to be a disaster, and it’s going to last FOUR HOURS.

I arrived, business cards at the ready, determined to meet at least four people (one of my goals for the evening), with a post-it note in my purse where I had written down how I was going to answer the question “What do you do?” and with my talking points at the ready. I planned to ask questions and listen more than I talked. I read a great piece right before the event (it made the rounds on twitter Wednesday afternoon, but now I can’t find it) that had dished out a number of great tips, boosting my confidence.

It recommended creating a more-interesting-than-normal response to the one question that probably gets asked the most at any networking event–”What do you do?”

The writer said you should craft a response that included what you do, how you do it, and the result–something similar to an elevator pitch, but a one-liner. While what I came up with didn’t do this perfectly, it did yield much better results than just saying, “I’m a writer.” My carefully crafted (meaning, thrown-together-five-minutes-before-leaving-the-office) answer was, “I work with individuals and small businesses helping them put what they’re passionate about into words.” If the person still looked like they were listening, I followed it up with “I write content for marketing materials, brochures, press kits, website content, that sort of thing.”

Anyway, my point is, I was “prepared.” But I was still nervous. The venue wasn’t open yet when I got there, even though I was on time, so they asked us all to wait for a few minutes in the lobby. I played with my phone. Around me, a few other people were doing the same thing (presumably checking their email or making a call before the event–I’m sure they weren’t just pretending) while others chatted and mingled, networking (after all, that’s why we were all there).

Once the venue opened and we all filed inside, I forced myself to put away my phone and talk to someone–anyone. Fortunately, NYEBN (the group holding the event) has sponsors that set up tables. So to get myself started I walked around looking at tables and talking to the people behind them about their companies. From there, I found myself talking to one of the other attendees, who happened to be talking to the woman behind the table I was at too–and I got my first business card.

While that first conversation wasn’t with someone likely to need my services any time too soon, it helped me break the ice and get over my nervousness. Once he and I had chatted for a bit and exchanged information (he was an accountant, so there is a chance I’ll interview him for a piece one of these days), I felt much more relaxed–still apprehensive but not paralyzed–and began to use the tips I had come up with at the last event I attended and the tips I’d had recommended to me, once I put up that post. I looked for people standing by themselves or not engaged in conversation. And introduced myself to them. At least twice I had people thank me for coming up to them–they were clearly nervous themselves. Each time, that helped bolster my confidence a little more.

At the end of the night, I’d met 17 people, over four times the number I was aiming for. I ended up staying until 10:30, when they kicked the few of us still there out, because I was involved in a great conversation. About half of the people I spoke to were vaguely interested in potentially using my services at some point; about 4 are potentially serious prospects. And I’m definitely going to attend another event.

See, the nice thing about a networking event is everyone is there to network. The goal is to meet people. So when you walk up to someone, they aren’t thinking “who is this person and why are they trying to talk to me?” – they’re trying to decide if you’re someone who they can sell their product to, or whose product/services they are interested in.

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