Find Work Find Talent
human in a bear costume standing in a spotlight, with people milling around them

Artwork by Stacy Nguyen

8 Networking Tips for Socially Awkward Weirdos

Written By Stacy Nguyen | Oct 2, 2018

I used to hate networking. I used to hate going to events littered with a bunch of impressive-looking people in power poses, laughing with each other because everyone already knows each other and nobody knows me because I am a big loser.

Believe it or not, nowadays, I love networking. I love meeting people who are vibrant and passionate about their work. I love amassing individuals that I can burden with future favor-asking and business-seeking.

What spurred this complete one-eighty? Nope. Not a lobotomy. It’s this other stuff:

1. First, stop calling it networking. You’re actually just meeting cool new buddies.

Over the weekend, I went to a party in costume, and no one else was freaking dressed up. I felt flustered and self-conscious that I was dressed like a Care Bear in a restaurant full of cool, tattooed people. I quietly sat at the bar and drank my alcoholic beverage like a dork. And then I turned to the woman next to me to ask “Is that pie yummy?” because she had a half-eaten slice of pie in front of her.

She told me it was real yummy. I was like, fuck it, I’m going to eat some of this pluot pie, too. And then I was like, whoa, this pie is so good. And then the woman next to me was like, it’s so good!

Then after five minutes of talking about this pie, I asked her what she does for a living. She told me she’s a butcher. I was like, GET OUT. I actually have a legit interest in breaking down animals into cuts of meat!

We spent the next half hour talking about quality of food, sustainability, the environment, responsible butchery, charcuterie, graphic design, running a small business, our families, how our parents are all disappointed in our respective career paths — just everything! And then by the end of it, I asked her for her contact info, and I gave her my business card.

That is networking. Networking is simply making a real connection with someone doing coolass shit.

I think popular TV shows and movies have led us astray and made us think that being a brilliant, flaming asshole who is hard to work with is a sure-fire way to amass fans.

Bro, it is not.

2. Whenever you start to feel embarrassed, punch that feeling in the throat.

There’s always this voice inside our heads. It is telling us that we’re weird, we’re unlikable, we’re uninteresting, and everyone hates us because we showed up in a Care Bear costume.

That voice is wrong and also a major dick, and you need to punch it in the throat.

Go into every interaction assuming the best of intentions. Assume that people are open, that people are nice, and that people are interested. When you lead with optimism, you often get optimism back.

3. Always be locked and loaded with a five minute speech about yourself.

I hail from an Asian family and culturally, we’re very collectivist. It’s not a good look to talk too much about ourselves. It took a long time for me to dismantle this way of thinking for the sake of my career.

I actually have five minutes of material on myself memorized. I have actually practiced reciting my stump speech out loud, many times. I generally never have to recite the entire thing to another human ever — that would be weird — but I do drop snippets of it all the time. When someone asks “Why do you love what you do?” or “What would you say your design style is?” or “What did you do this weekend?” — I stop myself from saying “I dunno,” or “Chilling with my dogs.”

Instead, because I have practiced, I can say, “Oh, over the weekend I went and took photos at this show that one of my clients was putting on…”

4. Remember that networking goes two ways. Be a giver.

Networking feels gross and manipulative when you are being gross and manipulative about it — when you are going into it with the intent of gaining professional connections and contacts for yourself.

How I conduct myself gets me in the doorway more often than my portfolio ever does.

I prefer to view networking as community-building. In my case, I am building my own community of creatives and small businesses. I refer clients to photographers or videographers all the time because those things aren’t really my strongest skills. I match-make professionals all the time just because I think they’d vibe well with each other. I always make time to grab coffee and talk shop with anyone who has less experience than I do. I always try to ask people doing passion projects how I can support them. I do all of these things because it’s feels pleasant.

Counterintuitively enough, I get a lot back from this. Like, I get jobs doing this. I think it’s because people just like to work with people that they enjoy being around and respect. How I conduct myself gets me in the doorway more often than my portfolio ever does.

5. Be authentic, but also be the cheerful version of yourself ‘cause no one actually likes the dour-asshole-genius.

I think popular TV shows and movies have led us astray and made us think that being a brilliant, flaming asshole who is hard to work with is a sure-fire way to amass fans.

Bro, it is not.

I think people just want to feel happy in interactions with strangers — and this comes across when we show genuine, positive interest in someone new.

I’m actually like, dark as hell. My soul is dead. But I know better than to bring the face of 2 AM-past-deadline-Stacy to an interaction with a new contact. New people think I’m really friendly and naturally smile a lot.

6. For the love of God, have a lot of business cards on you at all times.

This one is so simple, but I feel like socially awkward people love to self-sabotage because they don’t think they are deserving of positive outcomes because of imposter syndrome and definitely a whole litany of other things they should be talking to their therapist about. So, socially awkward people are always the ones who are patting their pockets and saying shit like, “Oh, I don’t have any business cards on me. I’m sorry!”

Put the cards in your coats, your purses, your wallets, your car, your shoes, all over. Have them on you always!

7. Learn to exit gracefully. If that is too hard, just exit.

This advice might be vaguely devious and red-flaggy if I was talking about personal relationships, but since I’m talking about professional relationship-building, it’s okay.

Those of us who are socially awkward tend to linger too long in conversations and make the vibe all weird. I think it’s because we get so excited that we are engaging in a positive interaction that we get drunk on the feeling of safety. Overstaying our welcome with someone who hasn’t rejected us outright is easier than going out and hoping that lightning strikes twice.

So we milk the interaction for all its worth until it withers up and dies — until it gets awkward and the other person is looking around the room for an excuse to escape our nerd rambles.

This is why it’s important to play hard to get! Leave early, and leave them wanting more!

A good point to leave is when you are feeling really good about the interaction. Just leave at the climax. Just go, “It was really nice meeting you! Can I have your card?” and hold out your hand. The other person will be forced to give you a card and shake your hand because of social decorum. And then after that, just choose a direction. Then leave. Just go. Find someone new to meet and talk to so that people think you’re social!

8. For the love of God, follow up.

After meeting cool people, I think we like to convince ourselves that we totally made it up in our heads — that it wasn’t as auspicious as our traitorous minds are telling us it was.

Hey, it totally was. And that business card has an email on it for a reason. Just reach out. Don’t agonize about it for days. That’s weird. Just zip off a message before too much time has passed and the memory of you has faded from your potential buddy’s brain.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.