Four practical tips to avoid painfully awkward networking and eat what ya want while doing it.

I genuinely love people, so networking tends to be easy from a “get to know you” standpoint. However, I am human, and therefore I face the challenges of networking that many people face…like, botching my “elevator pitch” (I’m not a fan of this term…more on that later) running out of questions to ask, or feeling like I’m coming off as salesy or confusing.

Let me give you an example;

A colleague was kind enough to introduce me to a woman who works in a similar field. I looked forward to meeting her and did some research ahead of time (thank you LinkedIn).   I had insightful questions planned.  I was confident and ready to go.  I arrived early at the pizza place where we’d agreed to meet and got a booth for us.

She walked in, looked me up and down, and I “knew” immediately that this was not going to be the type of meeting I’d hoped for.

Call it a “vibe,”  the 100-millisecond assessment of her nonverbals.  I got the sense that she sized me up, deemed me, someone, she’d talk to just to be nice, and that was going to be that.  I have no idea if that was true or not, but it doesn’t matter; I believed it. It got into my head, and I found myself stumbling over what I wanted to say about myself and my business.

It felt awful.

Don’t get me wrong. She was friendly and smart. She asked good questions, and I attempted to do the same.

We had a stilted, awkward, conversation over salads.  (I almost always order the salad.  The politically  “correct” thing to eat.  Next time, I’m ordering the pizza, and I’m going to eat it.  All of it.) I left the restaurant feeling frustrated and down about the interaction.

Looking back,  I see that I  stumbled over what I said about myself and my business because, to be honest, I tried to say what I thought she wanted to hear.  Something that might lead me to a sale, a referral, anything.

My answers were awkward because they weren’t genuine.

Who knows how differently the conversation might have gone had I responded to the situation with who I truly am and what truly I do.  Maybe there would’ve been a lead or a referral. Maybe the conversation would’ve been more engaging and energetic. Maybe I would’ve ordered the pizza and laughed, avoiding the awkwardness of trying to cut soggy lettuce.  It’s hard to say.

I do know that I would have felt much better about myself and my business had I stayed true to my message, not what I thought someone wanted to hear. 

What do I do now to prevent repeating this painful experience?

Here’s my go-to list of tips;

1.)  Recognize it when it’s happening (because it will)

Recognizing that we aren’t being true to ourselves in the moment helps us refocus and do what needs to be done to salvage the conversation and/or prepare better for the next one.

2.) Reframe, Restate

If you catch yourself while you’re still talking, change your words. It’s fine to say something like “I didn’t say that right. What I meant was …” or “Let me give you a better example.”   If you don’t’ catch it in the moment and are frustrated about it later…go to step #4.

3.) Practice 

If you are struggling with how to talk about something, practice it out loud.  How we sound in our head and how we sound out loud isn’t the same (if you’ve ever argued mentally with a loved one and then tried to say it out loud, you know what I mean). Record your message on your phone and play it back. Critique yourself.  Rehearse with your friends, family, your dog…

4.) Avoid the Tear Down 

It’s easy to get down on ourselves, to focus on the negatives, or to shy away from trying again. Instead of beating yourself up for what didn’t go right, ask yourself  “What can I learn from this?”  Then, take what you’ve learned and do better the next time.

Last but not least… smile and laugh because we’ve all been there. Don’t take yourself or anyone else too seriously.  Life’s too short.