It takes great courage to walk into a room full of people. It takes even more courage when it's a room full of strangers. How do you handle it? Do you sit in the corner? Do you wait until people notice you? How long do you wait?
The reason I ask is this…
I was at several networking events over the past couple of weeks and while I was at one of them, I noticed this woman across the other side of this large room, sitting very quietly on a chair.
As I watched her, I noticed her posture was very prim and proper. I noticed how she fidgeted with the stem of her wine glass. I noticed how her eyes were focused only on the floor AND, I noticed all the people around her who didn’t even realize she was there!
There was probably close to a hundred people in the room. I watched for about 5 minutes, thinking surely someone would reach out to this poor woman and make her feel at ease. Nothing.
So, I went over and introduced myself. I casually said “You're sitting here by yourself, are you new to this group?” She looked up and smiled with some sense of relief that she was indeed not invisible and quietly said she was here on business from across the country and wanted to come to this special event. WOW! Can you imagine the courage it took for her walk into a room full of complete strangers?
I spent some time chatting with her, but since I was part of the event and had some responsibilities to perform, I couldn't take her under my wing for too long. I introduced her to one of my friends, explaining that this lady didn't know anyone and would she mind introducing her to some of the others. A very enthusiastic “Yes, of course!” was stated and off they went. Soon she was involved in some great conversations and meeting people around the room. She was engaged, smiling, laughing, and having a wonderful time.
When I got home that night I reflected back to the evening and wondered WHY no one noticed her earlier. I knew most of the people at this event and I know how incredibly supportive and thoughtful they are. Yet, not one of these generous people reached out to make this lovely lady feel welcome. WHY NOT? I know they all typically go out of their way to include others into conversations and would never leave someone on their own - intentionally! So again, WHY were they not rescuing this poor damsel in distress?
And then it hit me….
They didn’t see her because she literally made herself INVISIBLE! I thought back to her posture and how she sat there very rigid and stiff. I thought back to where she was looking, which was down, straight ahead, and towards the floor. I realized she was so scared to meet people, she made herself disappear.
I always like to find lessons in what I experience and in this situation I found two lessons to be learned.
The first is if you go to a networking event with the intention of not being seen - you won’t be seen.
The second lesson was other people can’t be supportive and thoughtful to someone they just don't know is there.
Would it have made a difference if she sat more relaxed and looked around the room to make eye contact with someone? Would it have made a difference if she stood and casually walked around the room making herself more accessible to others? The answer is a resounding YES!
When you actively engage, even with your eyes and a smile, you make yourself approachable. People catch the twinkle in your eye and the kindness in your smile and will automatically respond in like. THAT RIGHT THERE is the start of a conversation. No words need to be said and yet there is an exchange of thoughts and feelings that complete a sentence. Once that connection is established, the next natural progression will be to engage in a word of mouth conversation.
So my take on this experience…
The next time you find yourself going to a networking or a social event, whether you know people there or not, BE APPROACHABLE. It doesn’t matter if you are nervous. It only matters that you’ve already stepped outside your comfort level by showing up, so make it worth your while. Take a bold step, lift the corners of your mouth, take a deep breath in and LOOK UP! The moment you do, you WILL make eye contact with someone. And when that happens, smile big and say hello. You will be amazed at how wonderfully kind and generous people are.
On the same note, the next time you are at a networking or social event, take a moment now and then to scan the room and see if you find someone sitting there quietly by themselves, trying not be seen. Reach out to that person. Let them know you understand what it’s like to not know anyone and introduce them to others. They will be so grateful to you and you can feel good about yourself.
I always say that networking is not about YOU. This is the perfect example to showcase the meaning of that. When you take a moment to stop and think of someone else - it's a pretty good feeling for both of you.
I would love to know your thoughts. Please post your positive comments below. Share with me if you have experienced feeling invisible and what you did to push past it.
I would love to connect. Find me @lindasztanko on Social Media.