Freelance Files: The Conversing Conundrum

The art of conversation is dying out.

With the prevalence of IMs, WhatsApp & memes, being able to hold down witty conversation (ala Jane Austen) is becoming harder and harder to master, affecting your ability to find work, or just hold a conversation. This is where networking can help you.
Ahh…. the humble networking event. Warm wine, stuffy suits and awkward conversations; an essential evil of freelance life. For many, a positively terrifying experience, but it shouldn’t have to be; be honest, how many of you go to an event like this, thrusting business cards into someone’s hands and shuffling, sullenly away?

Here are a few tips to help you converse in a relaxed and unforced way, helping you build long lasting and beneficial relationships.
(We can’t do anything about the vinegary wine though.)

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Yes, It Does Take Courage

Be brave, be honest and make it fun. We all know its awkward; you aren’t the only one feeling awkward, play up to that. You’re all aware of why you are there. So, don’t pretend. If you are curious about something or someone, just go up and ask; most of the time, the other people in the room feel exactly the same way you do. So, if you see someone who looks interesting, or is saying something interesting… say so. It’s a great way to start a conversation, without the formulaic opening lines.

Any Opportunity Could Be A Networking Opportunity.

Networking events are one way to meet people, but it is not an exclusive avenue. We go about our days surrounded by strangers, but they don’t always have to be. I know…. we aren’t saying that you should strike up a conversation with everyone on the Victoria Line (as a born and bred Londoner, this is absolute sacrilege!) but if someone looks interesting or is carrying something that interests/inspires you. Say so. It’s a compliment more often than not and that could lead to an inspiring collaboration or work… you won’t know if you don’t try.

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It’s Not A Networking Opportunity, It’s A Chance to Make New Friends

Networking sounds like a chore, a job. But it shouldn’t be. It’s an opportunity to make new friends who understand your daily struggle. As adults (pretend or otherwise) it’s hard to make new friends, especially if you are looking for people who share your industry. There is a reason why Bumble has an app for finding BFFs. You are in a space with people who on some level, share your interests, that’s a great place to start. By making friends with your peers, it is easier to find common ground, collaborate and possibly work together, if it’s not possible, you have made a new friend you can meet for coffee every now and again. That’s not so bad right?

It Helps Improve Your Emotional Intelligence.

Everyone comes to their industry from a different place. You may all be in the same industry, but you have not taken the same route. By making friends with people, it can help you both understand the hard work and determination it has taken you where you are today. This breeds emotional intelligence; it helps you to understand a better mutual understanding or the shared struggle of being where you are today. It helps you to empathise. You learn to understand how people tick and work; in turn allowing you to see a challenge you may have faced from a different perspective. This is an invaluable skill than can not only help you to grow within your industry but can help to build strong, long lasting relationships that can flourish outside the barebones of work.

You Are More Than Your Job Title, So Are They

The point of a networking event is to find people in your industry, yes. But people are so much more than what they do for a living. Honest impressions are lifetime impressions, so find the person behind the title. No one just wants to talk about work all the time; it is just one facet of a person and it is a shaky foundation to build a relationship on. If you allow yourself to reveal a little bit more (within reason… no one needs to hear about your drunken girls’ trip) it will allow the people you are conversing with to open up themselves. It can be scary, but it will help the people you speak to something to remember you by, in a good way and can lead to easier follow ups when you’ve left an event or space to network.

These are just a few tips to help you converse in a world outside of WhatsApp; of course, it is scary, but most new things are. With practice, you’ll soon become as witty as Elizabeth Bennet.
You don’t know your own conversational strength; if you are passionate about what you are doing, that will shine anyway. who knows what it could lead to? Interesting stories, new connections and meaningful professional relationships along the way. Not too bad right?
(again, still can’t do anything about the wine)