The main reason so many people hate networking is because small talk can be exhausting. Before you can make any progress on what you’re really after, you undoubtedly have to start with the simple “hello’s” and “what do you do’s.”
It’s a form of professional etiquette that must be adhered to. Imagine someone walking up to you and starting with their main objective… “Hi, can I have your card so I can talk to you about a job at your company?” If you were the company representative, this opening line would immediately shock you, and you’d be left thinking, ‘wow, that’s bold, and I totally feel like I’m being used.’ Newsflash, you are being used.
This is why the small talk is essential. It creates a soft opening and introduction and gives the two people a chance to learn more about each other before either party dives in to help the other. Importantly, the small talk portion of the networking conversation gives each person the chance to assess the other and decide whether or not they WANT to help the other person. This is why small talk cannot be skipped.
However, the small talk is often the most exhausting part of networking. This makes sense because it’s much easier and quicker to shoot off an email and ask direct questions, whereas nurturing a friendly and mutually beneficial relationship face-to-face with someone you barely know is far more difficult and taxing.
But what if there was a way to avoid the small talk altogether? This would certainly make networking less challenging. Well, while you may not be able to completely avoid small talk, there IS indeed a way to significantly cut down on the amount of small talk you’ll need to do at a networking event…
Give a Speech at the Event
This may seem counterintuitive – i.e., if you shy away from the one-on-one small talk, why would you want to address the entire room all at once? – but by giving a speech (or the speech) at an event, you do yourself a huge favor, and here’s why:
1) Everyone in the room already knows who you are by the time the networking portion of the event begins if you speak earlier at the event. Thus, you can avoid repeatedly introducing yourself to everyone you meet, which saves time and mental energy.
2) You can get to the meat of the conversation much faster since you no longer have to introduce yourself. Skipping the introductions and a bit of the background small talk lets you get to the heart of the conversation more efficiently. In this situation – when the other person already knows who you are – it is much easier to dive right in and ask more direct questions about what it is that you really want to get out of the conversation. This is beneficial for both parties.
3) You won’t have to repeat yourself all night because, again, everyone already knows who you are and little bit about you, so you can skip the “Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I work on XYZ [and proceed to explain XYZ].” Repetitiveness leads to mental exhaustion, which is one of the reasons why so many people hate networking, so decreasing this mental exhaustion, by not having to repeat yourself as much, will make networking less taxing.
4) People will seek you out, so there is less searching to do on your part. Think about it… if you’re at a networking event and a speaker inspires you or sparks some interest for you, you’re specifically going to target them in the networking portion of the event. Thus, if YOU are the speaker, or one of the speakers, the attendees will naturally come to you. In this case, you may not have to go far – or move at all! – during the networking event to meet the people you’re interested in meeting.
5) You inherently showcase your personality and demeanor when you give a speech; thus, recruiters and other potential network connections know before they officially meet you whether or not you’d be a good fit for what they are looking for. One goal of small talk is to get a sense of someone’s personality to check for good compatibility, but if you’ve already demonstrated your personality before you meet someone, you will be able to get to the heart of the conversation faster because there is less need for small talk and personality assessments.
6) You naturally set yourself apart from the others in the room by putting yourself in the spotlight and speaking. With a level playing field of intelligence in the room (i.e., everyone has, or is getting, a PhD), anything you can do to set yourself apart will serve you well when it comes to networking and finding a lead for your next position. By stepping into the spotlight, recruiters and other potential network connections will inherently view you as slightly more important than the rest of the attendees who may have the same, or similar, credentials as you.
Regarding networking and small talk, these are some of the key benefits of speaking at an event.
Although it can be overwhelming to think about speaking at an event, keep in mind that you don’t have to give the keynote speech. In fact, doing so probably wouldn’t draw a great crowd especially if you’re a graduate student or postdoc amongst a sea of similarly qualified jobseekers.
However, you don’t have to give the keynote speech to accomplish the goals stated above; you can simply give a short speech at the event. For example, volunteer to introduce the keynote speaker or the panel of distinguished guests, provide a 5-minute overview of the event’s agenda, give a short presentation on behalf of a student group, or advertise upcoming events, initiatives, and opportunities for eligible attendees.
Any way that you can get in front of the audience, briefly introduce yourself, and speak about something is a great way to cut down on the amount of small talk you’ll need to do in the networking sessions that follow the feature presentation. So don’t shy away from the opportunity to address the audience, and, in fact, you should try to find ways to create that opportunity for yourself!
** Don’t be shy – speak at the event and let us know how the networking portion goes for you! **
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