Last Thursday I attended an event focused around networking. I am familiar with the term, having had a day focused on it at university a few months ago. This event however was to be hosted by an expert in the field with ambassadors from of different companies present. A good friend of mine was hosting the event, and a member of Channel 4 was attending so I came along. I hoped to learn some skills and perhaps gain a contact.
The talk itself was good. The expert explained how they got into the field of career networking. The crowd listened attentively, some making notes. I choose not to. Don’t get me wrong if you need to network 24/7 to get ahead then go do it, but the tips and process being explained lacked a personal feel. Perhaps I am being naive and this machine-like process is what it takes to get ahead in business and in your career.
After the talk came the chance to network with the guests and other participants, this is where I began to feel uncomfortable. The expert came over to speak to a gentleman I was standing with (having sat with him for the talk), seeing he was busy talking about his plans they turned their gaze to me. From this point I was aware he was the target or the expert, which meant the conversation that followed was down to proxemics and not interest.
I vaguely remember being asked about what I thought about the talk, replying I had found it helpful etc. The expert then complimented my hair, which made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t the compliment, I partial to a hair compliment every now and then. It was the fact it was a personal comment. It set of an alarm, reminding me about the experts tip to make a personal comment during the conversation. Perhaps the compliment was sincere, but it felt forced and rehearsed.
At the start of the conversation I had felt like a means to an end, and this just reinforced that notion.Of course the addition of a personal comment makes the conversation less formal, and puts both parties at ease. I do understand its reasoning but when I was aware of it being used on me it made me feel uncomfortable.
It comes down to whether you are cut out for networking. I don’t think I am. I can do it, but I feel awkward and embarrassed. At this event I even asked my friend to introduce me to the Channel 4 woman as I had no clue how to approach her. We had a brief but friendly talk about her job and my current path to working in TV and Radio. I did get a lot from our conversation and she helped reassure me that my plans with a bit of determination should get me to where I want to be. This felt more like a friendly chat than networking though, although it would be classified as such there seemed to be a difference.
It was the talk and the networking expert that put me slightly of kilter. They say its a dog eat dog world out there, maybe it comes down to your breed. Direct networking is for the Hounds and I’m more of a Labrador, favoring the friendly chats more. One day I may turn into a hound and feel at ease in this world but for now, I will make do with awkward chats that make me cringe hours later. Maybe that’s just my style of networking.