Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate networking events. I’ve recently been to quite a few — #YPmixerCLT connecting young professionals to nonprofits and #InstabeerupCLT connecting young professionals to other young professionals offline. Both were great fun, with good company.
I just hate very specific things about networking events. These are those things:
(1) The spiels.
I’ve got one (CharlotteFive is a digital-only, newsletter product aimed at engaging the Millennial audience with stories about news, lifestyle and entertainment!), you’ve got one (I’m probably tuning you out).
We all have our work spiels that are stiff and formal and make basic human connection feel slightly more out of reach. Must we do this to ourselves?
(2) The surface-level conversations.
Here we are, all smiling and talking about work and how it’s such a small world that we happen to know the same person through work. I get it, there’s only a limited amount of time before that first free beverage runs dry and it’s time to go finish working. But something inside me aches for some random person to drop a bomb of a question on me. What do you think is the meaning of existence? What makes you feel like what you do matters?
That, my friends, would be quite the conversation.
(3) The time frame.
Come on, who really wants to do something after work from 6-8 p.m.? It’s prime dinnertime, or workout time, or catching-up-with-good-friends time, or slump-on-the-couch-and-take-a-deep-breath-for-god’s-sake time. Networking events require great internal energy, and that can be tough to dredge up after a work day.
Yes, I’m an introvert.
(4) That moment when you run out of small-talk topics.
It’s time to move on to the next conversation and the next person you should meet (that’s kind of the point, to meet more people and expand your work/social horizons, right?) but your smooth exit is unclear. You’ve already covered the list of your favorite wine bars and what brought you both to Charlotte. Help.
(5) The transience of it all.
The night is winding down! Maybe we trade business cards and promise to email each other about another upcoming event or whatever. Maybe we even follow each other on Twitter, on the spot. But who are we to each other now? Faintly recognizable acquaintances should we bump into each other at the next networking social?
I go to networking events anyway.
Inevitably, a networking event is a chance to get fresh perspective or even to learn something new. When I was at #YPMixerCLT at The Fillmore, I learned about RETI for the first time. RETI, or the Renewable Energy Transition Initiative, is working locally to eliminate energy poverty by teaching residents about renewable energy solutions and reducing the energy costs of low-income families. How else would I know that existed?
A networking event is also a way to support community. Everyone is vulnerable and exposed at these things because (a) you might not know a single soul there, (b) you’ve just emerged from long hours at your desk and back into the light of day and (c) you’re not on your phone or plugged into earbuds. Ah, these rare moments for unhindered conversation. Join it.
A networking event is a way to support your friends. By the time you’re in your late 20s in the Charlotte young professional realm, it’s very likely that you and/or your dear friends are tasked with hosting networking events through work or the charities you support. So support each other.
Show up, navigate the awkwardness. And make these hours mean something.
A few upcoming networking events to check out:
Photo: Katie Toussaint