Stop Feeling Nervous at Networking Events

Tell me if you’ve been here before: there’s a terrific networking opportunity and you’re scared witless of attending. After all, you don’t know anybody there. And if it’s a collection of your industry peers, they’re all smarter and more successful than you. Funnier, too. Why bother going—what could you possibly add? You’ll end up standing alone, nursing an overpriced beer all night.

Guess what? Nearly everyone else there is thinking the same thing. Industry power players—men and women who have dominated in their careers—are just as nervous as those down the food chain. They may know more attendees than you do, but they may also fear replacement by younger, hungrier professionals. People in the same room, cozying up, just to overtake.

Don’t believe me? If you’re at the intermediate level in your field, you’ve probably felt the same way about beginners. I certainly have. I’m five years into my professional career and have huge respect for a lot of people with half my experience. I’m also worried a few are campaigning for my job. So I can empathize with people who have twice my experience—some of them are probably thinking the same thing about me.

crowd at bar enjoying drinks
A large group of your peers can seem intimidating.

You’re not alone

We like to think we’re alone in our insecurities, but the reality is it’s one of the things that connects us. Think back to an event you’ve previously attended. If you’re honest with yourself, you probably saw some people just like you: standing alone, looking lost, and trying not to seem nervous despite being overwhelmingly so. It’s likely you didn’t approach any of these people because, even though you were in the exact same position, you didn’t think you were worth their time. The entire evening, you prayed for someone to approach you and strike up conversation. Yet, you weren’t willing to do the same thing for anyone else.

This is something I’ve always struggled with. As a broadcaster, I’m able to maintain a conversation with just about anyone. I’m an engaging speaker and a genuine listener. But incorporating myself within a group makes me incredibly nervous. I’m afraid I’ll say something stupid or make a fool of myself. And I may. But I may also make lasting personal or professional relationships.

antisocial couple texting
Strike up a conversation with someone–you’ll both be glad you did.

positive reinforcement

Here’s a perfect example. During Canadian Music Week, the radio industry descends upon Toronto and the bulk of the events are within a twenty minute walk from my apartment. Every year, there’s a giant party with nearly all attending radio professionals. It would be incredible for my career to meet some executives and fellow announcers—people who can help me improve my craft and provide future opportunities. But I’m petrified of going; I have a positive feedback loop telling me the following:

  1. Some people think you suck, and it’ll be embarrassing when you meet;
  2. Other attendees will think you’re a self-serving ladder-climber; and
  3. What could partygoers possibly gain from you?

Read “Managing Toxic Relationships

These points are constantly running through my head and I’m subconsciously—and purposefully—looking for any excuse not to attend: I have to get up early for work the next day or my apartment is a mess and I really need to clean up. Those are poor excuses given the importance of this event. And the positive feedback loop is just as foolish—the above can be reframed to be as follows:

  1. If some people—who have never met me, by the way—have negative opinions of me, here’s my chance to correct the story;
  2. The purpose of a networking event is to network: everyone in attendance wants to improve his or her future; and
  3. I have a number of unique experiences—like working for a radio station in Dubai—that people will find interesting.
people sitting at a networking event
Have a goal and then execute it–make the event work for you.

expect more of yourself

Whatever your apprehension is about being in a large group of people, remember this: they want to be accepted and engaged just like you do. If they didn’t, they would be at home. It’s the same with you—you’re there because you have a goal to achieve. Maybe it’s chatting with perspective employers, meeting industry peers with whom you have online relationships, or getting a better understanding of your field and where within you fit. Know that you’ll get from the experience whatever you’re willing to take. So make it something positive.

Stop Feeling Nervous at Networking Events