The Basics, or, How to Talk to Strangers Without Freaking Out
One of life's greatest professional challenges, not just for creators but for everyone, is developing the confidence necessary to engage in conversation with total strangers. I, for one, have always struggled with it. It’s one thing to be sure you’re in the right place, to find the events where the people you’re trying to meet congregate, but it’s another thing entirely to just walk up and introduce yourself. The most important thing to know is that, over time, it gets easier. The more you put yourself out there, introducing yourself to strangers and seeing that, indeed, the world did not end, the less anxiety you’ll feel. Like everything else, the key is practice, practice, practice.
Beyond that, though, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. First of all, tons of other people feel the same way. It’s easy to feel, in a room full of strangers, like you’re the only one feeling butterflies, but that’s never the case. Every time you go to a networking event, and you get nervous, look around and remind yourself that many of those people you find intimidating are going through the exact same thing, pushing against their insecurities to do something they know is good for both them and their careers.
Try to think about what it is that really freaks you out. What are you afraid of? Is it the awkward silence? Not knowing what to say? Butting in where you’re not wanted? Most all of these nightmare scenarios, if you really think about it, wouldn’t be a big deal, even if they did happen. Networking opportunities aren’t high-school cafeterias; people aren’t looking for victims to bully. The worst case scenario is you have an awkward moment, and then everybody moves on, forgetting about it almost instantly. I know it’s a hard thing to internalize, but the more you practice it, the easier it will become: get out of your head. People aren’t out to get you. Instead, they go to these events because, like you, they want to meet people. Again, over time, this lesson will crystalize and the fear will dissipate.
How to Get Started
But, hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, right? Eventually, you might end up not being as nervous, but at first, you’ll have to push through that wall, so it’s good to give yourself some helpful shortcuts.
The first and most important: business cards.
Having a creative, clear business card gives you a versatile tool in situations like this, one that makes your professional intentions clear, can both begin and end a conversation, and also reminds people of you later, after the event. No matter what size your audience, or where you are in your career, a business card makes it clear that your aims are high, and you take your craft seriously, which is exactly the right face to put on for a networking event.
Also, and I know it might seem silly, but it’s not a bad idea to think beforehand about what you’ll want to say, how you’ll introduce yourself, what questions you might ask to get to know others. How would you describe yourself, or your work, in a single sentence? What are some goals you have for your content and platform? It’s a good idea to have these answers ready, so you don’t have to think too hard about them. Same goes for what you’ll ask of others. Having a few basic questions in your back pocket to provoke conversation might seem like taking preparedness too far, but, if you’re nervous, it can take a huge load off your mind just to have them to fall back on. Soon, with practice, you won’t need them, but for now, it’s a good idea to do what’s necessary to make the process as pleasant for yourself as possible.