Small talk echoes about you as newly minted business cards pass from person to person, as if by way of slight of hand tricks. You look for a familiar face, but find yourself lost in a sea of well-tailored suits and little black dresses. Forced laughter bounces from wall to wall. Your heart beats faster, hands holding on more tightly to that brand new briefcase. You anxiously walk to the bar for some water, avoiding eye contact while secretly hoping someone notices that one statement necklace you so carefully selected with the hope that someone would notice you and start the conversation so that you would not have to approach them first: welcome to your first networking event.
Okay, that may have been a bit over-dramatic. Today, I love networking events, especially as a student. I was not always so fond of waltzing up to strangers and introducing myself though, and the situation I described above is pretty much a play-by-play of how my first networking event went. It was awkward. I stuck to the corners, had a few meaningless conversations, and left feeling defeated.
How did I go from discouraged by networking to energized by the very thought of it? I changed my mindset. When I went to my first networking event, I saw it as a chance to get ahead, to make my impression on someone important and leave feeling good about myself. It wasn't until after I had left that event that I realized how such a perspective was preventing me from doing just that.
Networking is a term that tends to dehumanize your interactions with other people at events. I only started to enjoy networking when I thought about what "networking" really means: building meaningful connections with other people. By meaningful, I don't mean important to succeeding in your career aspirations or to building resume. I am talking about building meaningful human connections to other people, beginning to build a relationship with them because you are generally interested in who they are and what they do rather than how they can benefit you. Start with that mindset, follow these eleven tips, and I promise that your first networking experience will be more enjoyable than mine.