Networking When You Hate It

It’s gala season. I was getting ready to go to the Ms. Foundation’s 30th annual Gloria Awards dinner yesterday and fretting about — almost everything.

What to wear. No, I can’t wear that red silk jacket that I wore the last two years again. I know everyone will be there in sparkly evening clothes and I don’t even have those in my closet.

More, stomach-churning: Who do I need to be prepared to meet to make the best of the occasion (Ava Duvernay, please please please!)? How will I do that elegantly? Who will greet me, whose name should I remember but will be embarrassed to have forgotten? What if I end up standing alone in the back of the room?

It doesn’t seem to matter that I have had the opportunity to meet people from the grassroots to the highest halls of power during my career. I never get over the insecurity before an event, large or small.

My anxiety elevates hourly. I can already feel the crush of people, the buzz in room where everyone but me seems to be engaged in scintillating conversation. Yes, FOMO — fear of missing out — is rampant.

I imagine myself oblivious to the person standing right next to me. You know, that person who looks equally uncomfortable, perhaps wishing someone would come up and talk to her, but you perceive vibes that say “I really wish I weren’t here” so you leave her alone, later learning she was exactly who I wanted to meet.

It should be networking heaven, but it’s actually personal hell.

What to do?

I start with a step back. I believe passionately that the world turns on human connections. There is huge value in being among people, especially when you are on a mission, as I am, to accelerate women to leadership parity in my lifetime.

Marley Dias, the most amazing 13-year-old, founded #1000BlackGirlBooks when she was just 10.

Marley Dias, the most amazing 13-year-old, founded #1000BlackGirlBooks when she was just 10.

It is so important to show up in this world as the authentic person you are or want to be. It’s so important to connect and deepen relationships with others to be able to accomplish your work and to have a fulfilling life. You simply can’t accomplish that much alone. Everyone gets where we are with the support of others whether we know it or not.

The Future is Female

All of this is why I’ve become increasingly aware of the power of the cohort. Of groups of women and men who intentionally support, sponsor, and elevate each other. Like the 50 Women Can Change the World cohorts that form organically during our signature training programs we have done for women in nonprofits and currently for women in media and entertainment. Proximity helps to animate that mutual support based in trust. And trust is the essential heart of any positive human connection.

With Alyson Palmer of BETTY and her daughter Ruby

With Alyson Palmer of BETTY and her daughter Ruby

So I start to change my mindset. And I focus on techniques I’ve used successfully over time.

The easiest way is to help organize or to be on the program at events so that most people attending will already know who you are. That’s not as hard as it sounds. You can be the one inviting others in your field to dinner or a mixer. You can be the connector, assembling the people you want in the room or the people you want to have in your longer-term cohort for mutual support. That way you can also set the stage and create the ambiance where you feel most comfortable. At a large event you can be the table host.

I didn’t organize the gala I’m going to tonight, but I can organize my experience in advance by sending a few emails to people who will be in attendance and let them know I’m looking forward to seeing them so we will seek each other out. And yes, I was so brazen as to ask my table host if she would please introduce me to Duvernay. “I wish I could meet her too,” she replied wryly. But at least I know I’ve put the intention out into the universe.

#metoo founder Tarana Burke presented Woman of Vision award to the amazing director Ava Duvernay as Ms Foundation president Teresa Younger and Gloria Steinem look on.

#metoo founder Tarana Burke presented Woman of Vision award to the amazing director Ava Duvernay as Ms Foundation president Teresa Younger and Gloria Steinem look on.

I don’t have to meet everyone at the event. I’ll instead concentrate on meeting or building deeper relationships with a few people I most want to get to know.

As Selena Soo, a brilliant connector of people says in this podcast, the fastest way to reach your goals is through relationships. She organizes amazing events with carefully curated invitees who are sure to find mutual interests. The atmosphere is always comfortable, not forced.

Dorie Clark says in an article on “Personal Branding for Introverts” in the Harvard Business Review that there is a difference between being an introvert and being shy. This distinction can be helpful:

“Despite the common misperception that all introverts are shy, and vice versa, they’re two very different phenomena. (Author and introversion expert Susan Cain defines shyness as “the fear of negative judgment,” while introversion is “a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments.”) I actually like giving talks to large groups… I’m happy to mingle and answer questions afterward. But at a certain point, I’ve learned through experience, I have to get away and go somewhere by myself.”

That sounds a lot like me.

If you too cringe at the idea of networking, or if you like it well enough but want some new tips for networking more powerfully and productively, then I invite you to join me for my next free Virtual Happy Hour. Here are the details of who will be there and what you will get from “The Power of the Cohort: Your New Networking Secret.”

Wednesday, May 9th at 6:30 pm ET, find out how to power up and network with purpose so you can build your cohort and accelerate your career with ease and grace. Take The Lead Leadership Ambassadors Felicia Davis, Founder of the Black Women’s Collective, Lisa Mead, President of Crown Healthcare Advisors, and Yesi Morillo-Gual, Founder of Proud to Be Latina are experts in building this new kind of network for women across industries. Tune in to this discussion jam-packed with useful information and moderated by Take The Lead President & Co-Founder, Gloria Feldt, (that’s me.)

Find out what makes a cohort the must-have new power-building block for women and learn:

  • How to create a community for yourself by crafting solutions that matter
  • 3 keys for networking with purpose to help you excel in your career or industry
  • Steps you can take to find or build cohort of your own without embarrassment or fear

There will be useful freebies you won’t want to miss! If you can’t make it on May 9, be sure to sign up anyway because we will send you the link to the program and the freebies afterward.

The Power of the Cohort: Your New Networking Secret
Wednesday, May 9th at 6:30 pm ET

Sign Up Now and here’s a video that tells even more:

The Ms gala was inspiring, and I had a great time in spite of myself. I wore a different red dress, my signature color. I didn’t aim to meet everyone but I had meaningful conversations with a few new people and some I wanted to meet. I supported a cause I believe in. I didn’t meet Duvernay but more importantly, my younger colleague did.

Ava Duvernay and Rhea Beddoe

Ava Duvernay and Rhea Beddoe

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.