A simple change can help make networking much more effective for yourself or even for everyone at your event.
You’re at a networking event but you’re new to the community and don’t know anyone in the room. Perhaps you got delayed at the end of the talk or had to go to the bathroom and now as you walk into the reception area you see already formed groups of people. They stand together, facing one another, like they’ve circled the wagons and here you stand, on the outside, all alone.
We’ve all been there. You feel isolated, awkward. Many of us pull out our cell phones or read the poster board for the event because we feel really uncomfortable standing alone. It likely brings back some early childhood trauma of social rejection.
In my book The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You I talk about the power of inviting someone into your circle. You are saving them from a painful situation (even if that pain is minor and temporary).
Still, that can be hard. Reaching out makes us feel vulnerable. So I was excited to come across a great technique to help with this problem. In Dorie Clark’s book Stand Out, she relays the advice of Robbie Samuels. Robbie started SoJust, a meetup group in Boston to bring together different social justice groups. One of his guidelines was to have croissants.
Most groups of people, when talking, form bagels. They stand in a circle, and all look at one another. It’s natural and it’s polite. Having a group of four people with three facing each other and a fourth standing slightly off to the side would feel uncomfortable to all four of them.
Rather than forming bagels, Robbie recommends forming croissants. A croissant isn’t closed, but rather is open on one end. That allows for people to more easily join the group. (For you topology buffs out there, we want a genus of zero, not one).
All of us have been on both sides of the conversation circle; we’ve been part of them, and we’ve been on the outside of them. At your next event try to be more open. Physically it means forming croissants, not bagels. Standing like that also serves as a good reminder to mentally be more open to others as well. So at your next event, bring the croissants.
Have people told you networking is important? What about communication, teamwork, and leadership? For all the lip service given them, how much formal education did you have on such essential skills? Probably little, if any. What are these skills and why haven't they been taught to students?