However, that pales in comparison to what I'm about to go through now, as I follow my Executive Director to the registration desk: a Christmas business networking event. In the seconds it takes me to clip on my name badge, my Executive Director is gone - I can see his head move through the crowd as he greets everyone with ease. So it's just me, the canapés and 100 people. And it's scary.
As I nip to the refreshment station (I start my night with an apple and elderflower) I begin an internal chant - "You can do this!" - while desperately trying to remember all of the training I've had over the past few months. What to do with my body, what to do with my voice, how to keep the conversation fresh, and importantly, when to move on.
I move tentatively towards the back of the room, as it isn't as densely packed and there is someone cradling a glass of wine by themselves. Deep breath, and I introduce myself. It's not scary.
In fact, it's quite nice talking about what makes everyone excited about their jobs.
The rest of the evening was a whirl of business cards, conversations about the local economy and Christmas. I got five new contacts, spoke to around 15 people and managed to tuck into some of the canapés once the butterflies settled.
When confronted with a new experience and new people it is very easy to be hypercritical of yourself. We are constantly "evaluating" our performance, and all too often we move automatically to a place of negativity. It is important to remember that everyone in a room is an individual, not the mass you see to begin with. The only true faux pas is not starting a conversation.
With that in mind here are my top tips for the networking novice:
- Set yourself a goal: having a goal in mind will make you focus your activity whilst networking. This could be gaining a certain number of business cards, or speaking to a number of people about your project.
- Understand when you need to move on: it's sometimes easy to forget a networking event is a job when you are enjoying a conversation. However, ensuring you keep it short and sweet will allow you to better work the room and keep people tantalised.
- Be reflective: after the event the work isn't done! Starting with what you have done well, evaluate your performance, and then look at what you need to improve for next time.
Note: And the only thing better than conquering your networking nerves? The amazing selection of sandwiches that made my way courtesy of one of the contacts I made. I was definitely very popular in the office that day!