I was recently speaking with a senior executive at a Fortune 500 company who was lamenting the fact that so many of his top employees were such bad networkers and schmoozers - incredibly uncomfortable in a room full of people they don't know. From an official standpoint, they could "check the box" saying that they successfully attended this or that many networking events on behalf of the company. But, as the executive lamented, if you attached a GoPro video camera to their bodies to actually document what they were doing, you'd find that they were, from a marketing and promotion standpoint, completely useless.
It got us thinking. Could we come up with a top 10 of different ways people avoid conversation at a networking event? Here's our list:
1. Pretend to have serious business on your smart phone (when you actually don't): You've probably seen people do this. Maybe you've done it yourself: Take out the trusty smart phone, scroll through your emails as you nurse your drink in the corner of the room, and type vigorously. You're not avoiding the event or conversation: you're just busy.
2. Become super-interested in your surroundings: Perhaps there are paintings on the wall you'd normally gloss over. Or perhaps a chart or mission statement that suddenly becomes the most fascinating thing you've ever seen. (Note: This strategy works wonders at charity events with silent auctions - with actual items of genuine interest lining the sides of the room.)
3. Go for a drink: Multiple times. And at the longest line. And it doesn't have to be an alcoholic drink. You can go for water or Diet Coke, or whatever it might be. The point is that you have a job - a purpose. And that purpose is standing in line. Conversation can wait.
4. Walk the room - multiple times. Do a full walk around. And then perhaps another across the middle. Maybe even pretending to yourself you see someone across the room you're looking to connect with and need to hurry before they leave. Your Fitbit will love you... but you probably won't get much actual networking done.
5. Decide your job is so important you need to miss most of the event. You might decide what you're working on at the office is so important that you can skip networking and just come to the official sit down part of the event - where you don't actually have to talk with anyone. It's a big relief... but also perhaps a missed opportunity.
6. Hide out in the bathroom. Yes - people do it. Especially at posh hotels with cushy bathrooms and multiple stalls to hang out in. Sit down. Take a deep breath. Take out your smart phone. Check the sports scores... or the stock market. And hope the event will be close to done when you finally re-emerge from your cave.
7. Take a walk outside of the networking event. And do it in a way that looks purposeful. You've got business to take care of (though in actuality, the only thing you're really taking care of is your own discomfort).
8. Cling - far too long. Stick with that person or group you know - even when they're venturing outside their comfort zones and looking to chat with other people. Or stay way too long in a conversation you've started - trying to extend the conversation to avoid being left alone and having to fend for yourself.
9. Become a temporary staff member. Someone drops a drink. Or a plate of food falls from the table. And you think: opportunity. You have the change to do something - anything - other than stand there without anyone to talk to. There's of course nothing wrong with being helpful... but beware when helping is really just a means to avoid stepping outside your comfort zone.
10. Embrace your inner gourmet. Food tables are a great means of avoidance. Carefully select your plate of food; eat it slowly - and deliberately; Go back in line - and repeat again. You'll put on a few pounds -- but also avoid those dreaded small talk conversations.
Have you ever avoided conversation at a networking event? What's your go-to strategy?