By: Odun Ishola

I was a hot mess at my first networking event. Clammy palms, sweaty forehead, fidgety fingers… Hot. Mess. Express. The entire time I was at the event, I was constantly in my head asking myself: How should I approach that person? What do I do? What do I say? Are my cheeks supposed to hurt this much from smiling? Every little detail of every little thing I did, and every move I made, was accounted for by me. By the end of the night, I felt like a string that’d been wound up too tight and was ready to snap. Of course, since then, I’d like to think I’ve gotten a bit better. The more events I’ve been to, the more comfortable I’ve become. Partly because practice makes perfect, but mostly because I go with people who know what they’re doing and throughout the years, I’ve picked up a couple of tips and tricks from them.

Do – Be prepared

Yes, this is as clichéd as can be, but we all know it makes a world of difference. Knowing what you’re talking about and whom you’re talking to, decreases the likelihood of your nerves getting the better of you.  When preparing, try to be as detailed as possible. If you’re able to get a list of people who will be in attendance be sure to do some research on them – who they are, what they do, what they’re interested in, what project they’re working on, et cetera, et cetera. If the event is centered on a specific topic, you better become an expert on that topic, because that’s all anyone will be talking about. Whatever you do, never go in blind. Always have something on hand to chat about. After all, that’s the true essence of what networking is!

Don’t – Stalk too much

With social media being an integral part of our everyday lives, the importance of it is no different in our professional lives.  If you know who’s going to be at the event, it’s okay to connect with them on your social media platforms in order to be well versed in who they are. However, it’s imperative that you’re smart about which platforms you connect on. LinkedIn is a helpful social media tool for networking. Its sole purpose is to help easily build your network by connecting you with professionals in your industry.  Make use of it to its fullest potential. Twitter is also great. The short character limit allows you to get a quick gist of their interests, which you can then do some more research on. However, platforms like Facebook and Snapchat might be a bit too personal. You want to know enough, but not too much. During networking events, most people avoid talking too much about their family/personal lives. Needless to say, it may be a bit weird to bring up a person’s son’s ballet recital if you’ve never met them before, just sayin’.

Do – Bring someone with you

A close friend, a coworker, your mom… It doesn’t matter. Just bring someone! There are a lot of benefits to having someone there with you. 1. You have someone to talk to. 2. You have someone to talk to. 3. You have someo– you get the point. There’s nothing more awkward than standing in a corner by yourself. By having someone there, you’re able to confidently strike up conversations with others around you and the pressure of keeping the conversation going isn’t solely on your shoulders. Having a friend works as a buffer for potentially awkward stalls in conversations. After all, two heads are better than one!

Don’t – Be Yourself

Be a more confident version of yourself. If your confidence level is already high, turn it up even higher. If you’re not a confident person, act like one – square your shoulders, keep your head high and demand your space. If it feels unnatural, then you’re doing it right! I’m aware that this is completely against everything anyone has ever told you. The truth of the matter is, if you act confident, you become confident. Faking it till you make it is a real thing. I’ll let you in on a little secret: What “it” is exactly, no one knows! We’re all trying to figure it out. To play the game, you have to act like you have it mostly figured out. The best networkers are those who’ve perfected the act of pretending to know what it is.

With all that being said, I will admit, I’ve not fully mastered the art of networking, I still find it intimidating and highly uncomfortable. These are just some tricks I use to make myself feel a little bit better. So if you have any other tips you like to administer during events, please comment below. I’d love to know!