Photograph by Charlotte Clemie Photography
Disclaimer: The following article may include certain anxiety based triggers. If you aren't feeling in the right frame of mind to read this, then please click away now.
After attending the wonderful YorksInstaMeet last week at Priory Cottages, along with over 100 other creative people, I thought this would be a great topic to address. As someone who suffers with anxiety myself, agreeing to go to networking and social events like this can be more than daunting. If you would have asked me to go even 6 months ago, the answer would most probably have been a firm 'erm, no thanks!', with my eyes resembling a deer-like alertness and fear.
Meeting new people has never been one of my strong suits, and it doesn't just stop there. Over the last couple of years, my anxiety had gotten so bad at one point that I just wasn't able to socialise with people within my own family for extended periods of time. I'd run out of energy so quickly and would then need to go home and recharge immediately. On one occasion, where my anxiety had gotten the best of me, I was meeting some friends for a birthday party one Saturday afternoon. I arrived at the event, started to freak out in the car park, walked inside and felt like everyone was staring at me, ran to the toilets and sobbed. I was literally stuck in a toilet cubicle not able to come out for fear that a single person would look in my general direction. In the end, after some time, I plucked up the courage to leave the toilets and ran straight back to my car and drove home, apologising to my friends and explaining what had happened, and that I would not be attending.
It's interesting because there are two sides to this topic, and I've experienced both of them. One is the anxiety that slowly builds leading up to an event, and sometimes stays during, and then there is the anxiety that slaps you out of nowhere and suddenly you're in unfamiliar territory, with unfamiliar people, and the only option is to run and hide. So, in the hopes of trying to cover all my bases, I would like to address both of these in the tips that follow.
Before The Event
This was how my anxiety first started. That horrible pit in your stomach when past you said yes to an event that future you is currently cursing you for. You suddenly realise that you can't possibly be seen out of the house with other people who are clearly only there to pick at, and criticise, all the stupid things you're obviously going to say.
In this situation, one of the biggest tips I have learned to cope with this is giving yourself the freedom to say no later down the line. When it's a ticketed event or things that allow only a limited number of people, this is when it can get a little tricky. However, I still always remind myself, that if the day comes, and you just can't go because you feel too overwhelmed, that's okay. Your mental health is worth more than the price of your ticket. For me, having that flexibility to be able to change my answer at any point takes that pressure off. Networking events are there to benefit you. Don't feel guilty about saying no when you're not feeling your best.
Practice conversations. Now, when people suggest role-playing potential conversations or scenarios, it makes me want to die inside. So, my solution is to think about all the questions people have asked me about my business in the past, and write down, or think about, what my answers are today. You can also think about businesses that you love and admire, and what questions you would like to ask them if you had the chance. Taking the time to have a brainstorm and write down different topics and questions in this way allows you to prepare more, without having the dreaded 'on the spot' acting session with someone.
Ahhh social media, how you always seem to crop up in every blog post I write now. All jokes aside, you can use this to your advantage before the event too. Nowadays networking events are organised through social media channels, and what this allows you to do is check out the other attendees beforehand. Now, I am not talking about a full on stalking session, just take some time to have a browse and see what other like-minded businesses will be in attendance. You can choose to connect with these people prior to the event if you like, but if not, at least you'll start to have a better idea in your head about who you are going to meet there. This can also help you when brainstorming topics of conversation, as per the previous tip.
On The Day Of The Event
Let's not forget, everyone is in the same boat. It's new, you're out of your comfort zone, you don't know the majority of people there, and at some point you're going to have to make conversation with someone, even if it's only to ask where the toilets are. The beauty of this scenario is that you can either talk about yourself (which I'm sure you'll know pretty well), or ask the other person questions about them. Don't be intimidated by thinking that networking is only about finding other people and businesses to collaborate with. It's also about just getting to know people for the first time. You don't have to sell yourself or pitch big ideas if you don't want to. Just taking an interest in what someone else does and finding out more about them is more than enough.
Just be yourself. I know, I know, how many times have you heard that? It's the same thing you get told when meeting your partners parents for the first time. But low and behold its true. It takes a lot more effort to try and be someone you're not than to just be who you are, and this shows. Not only that, but you also might make some really good friends out of it too. I know at the YorksInstaMeet I was able to reconnect with people I have met at shows in the past, and it's so nice to spend the time getting to know each other more face to face.
Finally, if you need to leave early, then leave, and give yourself a big pat on the back for getting ready and showing up in the first place. Going to social events like this can be a huge burden if you suffer with anxiety so it's no small feat. The more you go to events like this the more confident you will feel. What's more is, in-between meeting people face to face, you can connect with them from the comfort of your own home behind the protection of your screen. Spending the time engaging in your community through social media can make the next social gathering less daunting.
I hope you've found these tips helpful. If you have any tips or tricks for coping with networking events, I'd love to hear them!! Let me know in the comments below.
This one is a big cyber hug for all of you who, like me, suffer with mental health.