You’re by yourself in a crowd of people. Everyone is a stranger. You look around for a familiar face so that you can feel some comfort and ease, but you don’t see anyone you know. Your hands begin to sweat. Your nerves are on the brink of collapse. You begin whispering to yourself "Why am I even here?" over and over again. It feels like all eyes are on you, and you have no idea what to do next. You start rambling and acting strange. All you can think is "What do I do?".
If this situation sounds familiar, you may suffer from "SoAwk". SoAwk, aka Social Awkwardness, is a devastating disease spreading throughout our entire culture. The influx of online social networking sites and texting has aided in the spread of SoAwk, because of the general ease of not having to speak to people face-to-face. Instead, forcing people to hide behind the almighty keyboard and communicate through cryptic acronyms such as "LOL" and "BTW" and "BRB". If your daily doses of networking and communication mainly consist of posting on someone's "wall", BEWARE! - for you may soon contract SoAwk (if you haven't already).
But fear not, there is a cure! Together, we can beat this disease with a little something I'd like to call "Social Networking" (not to be confused with Online Social Networking). Social Networking is when like-minded people gather to meet other like-minded people. In this particular case (since we are professionals), let's focus on Social Networking for your business. It is just one of the paths you can take to completely curing SoAwk. But it doesn't come easy and without side effects. One must prepare themselves mentally for Social Networking. You can't just dive head-first into it. It takes time, practice, and most of all: Courage (....oh, and a car. Or a scooter of some sort.)
So how do you acquire Social Networking, you ask? Well, first you have to find a Social Networking event. Preferably one with people (if you're just not ready for people, you can start with animals at a petting zoo or something. Baby steps...) Once you find the perfect networking event, you have to actually go to it. Contrary to popular belief, thinking about going to it is not the same as actually attending it.
Once you arrive at your networking event (in your car or scooter), you pretty much have 4 options: 1) Stand by yourself in a corner and wait for someone to approach you. 2) Start a conversation with a stranger. 3) Leave the event. 4) And, of course, the newly-popular: Pretend to text someone on your phone. If you're here to cure SoAwk, then your choice should be apparent: You have to start a conversation with a stranger (and by saying "Start a conversation", I don't mean running to grab their business card and then texting them from across the room).
Once you're able to conquer this first big step, everything else will begin to fall in place. And to help get you off on the right foot and on the path to beating SoAwk, I'm going to provide a quick list of some Do's and Don'ts. Keep in mind that these are just suggestions, and if not taken - certainly won't dissuade you from achieving your goal. But it may help get you there quicker if you follow it. I myself, am still trying to completely recover from a bad outbreak of SoAwk when I was younger, and certainly do not consider myself an expert - But I have learned a few things in my struggles.
1) DO take the initiative and be the one to introduce yourself. A simple "Hi, my name is ____________" is the best way to start a conversation. Remember: Everyone at a Social Networking event is there to network. They're just as hesitant as you are to walk up to a complete stranger. But in general, most people are decent, nice human beings. These are people who want to represent their companies well. No one's going to punch you in the face or tell you to leave them alone.
2) DO act confident. Think of Social Networking as one great big job interview. You're the interviewer, and everyone else is the interviewee. Take control and ask relevant questions to really get the conversation flowing.
3) DO be self aware. Confidence is one thing. Being annoying is another. If someone looks like they are trying to break the conversation with you, let them. Don’t be a lemming following around one person the entire time.
4) DON'T bring up politics or religion if this is your first time meeting someone. Trust me. You don't know this person, and there's no quicker route to completely offending someone. "Don't you just love/hate the president/Catholics?"
5) DO listen. Listening is even more important than talking, so don't dominate the conversation. If you start listening and all you hear is your own voice, you're doing it wrong.
6) DO respect personal space. Standing too close to a person can make them uncomfortable. If the person you're talking to keeps slowly stepping back, don’t keep taking a step forward. They are trying to get away from you. Take the hint.
7) DON'T play that game of "Who's handshake is firmer". It’s not an arm wrestling competition. You may be a strong guy, but unless you’re Superman - I’m pretty sure you have some control over that kung-fu grip of yours. Don’t crush the other person’s hand. A firm solid handshake is all it takes.
8) DON'T be embarrassed to go up to a group of people and join their conversation. Be respectful and wait for a good entry point into the conversation. Listen first, then reply. Hopefully this will be a good lead-in to an introduction: “By the way, we haven’t met before – my name is __________”.
9) DON'T be afraid to cut a conversation short if someone is dominating all of your time. Ask permission to take their card and call them later for a one-on-one meeting if that's your goal.
10) DON'T hit on the person you're talking to! This is a Social Networking event, not Match.com.
11) DO consider your breath. Seriously. Nothing disrupts a conversation more than bad breath. Even if you have the most interesting thing in the world to say, most people probably won’t be listening if your breath is distracting them. Two great solutions for this: Brush your teeth, and bring breath mints.
12) DON'T eat and talk. There’s nothing worse than spitting food onto the person you’re trying to make a good impression with (or worse: letting them see you talk with your mouth full). Eat before or after you have a conversation. Not during.
13) DON'T be a Debbie Downer. If everything you have to say is negative, you're better off not talking. And on the flip side, don't be a Lucy LovesALot. If you find every single thing to be the most amazing thing you've ever heard, that gets a little creepy.
14) DON'T be afraid to say "Pardon me?" if you didn't hear what the other person said. Nodding your head and smiling is a trick most of us have caught on to. Especially when we ask you an open-ended question and all you do is nod and smile.
15) DO search for common ground. People will tend to reveal a lot about themselves if you ask the right questions. Such as: "So how long have you been SoAwk free? I'm going on 6 months now..."
So there you have it. Just a few suggestions on how to cure/prevent SoAwk. Don't let this epidemic take control. You have the power to make it go away. A small donation of just $100/day can feed me for over a week...
Wait ... sorry ... that's a different cause. I get sidetracked...
Anyway, I hope I was able to help at least one person out there and that this wasn't just the pointless ramblings of that weird creepy guy Alex.
Take care everyone, and remember to always use protection against SoAwk. See you at the next event!
Alex Shi, Social Chair