How I Host Networking Events as an Introvert

If you asked 16 year old me if I would ever host a networking event (or any type of event for that matter), I definitely would have asked you if you’re crazy.

Me? Host an event? Speak in front of people? No way.

For most of my life, I was known as the small, shy girl. Even in my final year of high school, I had someone write in my yearbook, “Hi Chanèle! I’ll always remember you as the small, shy girl.” Still to this day, I’m not sure if it was meant to be a compliment or an insult.

Here’s a picture of me at 15/16 years old!

Either way, for the longest time, I never made any effort to change this. I’m an introvert and I just have to deal with that, I’d tell myself while I would longingly admire people who could speak in front of crowds with ease.

Until of course, I entered an industry where networking is absolutely crucial to success and I all of a sudden became determined to create more of a legacy than just being the “small, shy girl”. Despite the anxiety I felt around these situations, I forced myself to attend. With my sweaty palms (and let’s be honest – my armpits, too), I’d walk in and although it would take literally everything inside of me to stop myself from running back out the door, I’d stay and attempt to engage in conversation.

But then of course, my anxiety would flare back up as I think about all the different dilemmas we’re faced with at the average networking event. Should I go get a drink? Ok, I can’t get a drink and a snack or else how will I shake people’s hands? Who should I talk to first? I don’t want to sound corny…think of something smart to start the conversation, Chanèle! These people are talking in a group, should I insert myself? I’m ready to leave, how do I end the conversation?!

As I think back to the many events I have attended, most times I would leave with nothing but the feeling of serious overwhelm. I would barely make a single connection! The room would be so crowded that you’re not even really sure who is there and the host has made no effort to help their attendees make meaningful connections.

As an introvert, attending a networking event requires so much emotional energy. To have to deal with the anxiety and sweaty armpits and still leave without receiving any value – what really is the point? I could have just stayed home and read a book, I’d tell myself as I’d make my way home after yet another pointless event. It’s no wonder that many people I speak to say that they “hate” networking.

Instead of just deeming networking to be a lost cause, I took this anxiety and frustration and together with my business bestie Jem Castor, we created our own events – the networking events we always dreamed of. I had just launched Do Well Dress Well earlier in the year and I was excited by the idea of adding this “offline” element to my brand.

The goal was simple: to create an intimate space for young professional women to come together and make meaningful, long-term connections. On Sunday, August 6th 2016, ideate was officially launched. You can read the full recap of that event here.

This picture was taken just a few minutes before the first event started. I may be smiling but

behind this smile, I was holding back a whole lot of nerves!

I don’t think I need to go into detail on the level of nerves I had leading up to the first event because I’m sure by now, you could just picture it. I mean, I thought I was bad when all I had to do was simply attend an event but to actually organize AND host my own event?! I think my husband had to give me at least 10 pep talks during the week leading up to it (thanks Chris!), I didn’t sleep the night before and I honestly thought I would pass out while waiting for the first few attendees to show up.

Well, they did show up and women from across the Greater Toronto Area have continued to show up for ideate events ever since.

It has now been one year since the initial event and this past Sunday I hosted our 5th event – an anniversary brunch. What started off as just an small idea has become a full-fledged, diverse community of young professional women. Many of whom who just like myself would call themselves introverts yet have found comfort and value in the relaxed networking environment that we’ve created. It’s an event that has become a favourite of both introverts and extroverts alike.

During the pre-event registration, we gather information from each attendee including a short bio and social media handles. Prior to the event, this information is sent out to each registered attendee via a Google doc so that everyone is able to get well-acquainted before they even walk in the door. Many of our events have also started with a group networking activity. As J. Kelly Hoey says in her exceptional book Build Your Dream Network, we need to stop committing “random acts of networking“. “Effective networking requires purpose and preparation.

ideate networking continues to receive such positive feedback on how welcoming our events are, the overall professionalism and of course, the small guest list that allows each attendee to meet every single person and make real connections. Although we have new guests each time, many of our attendees are repeat guests and for me, there’s no better feeling than when I see them hug and say “Hey, we sat beside each other at the last event! So nice to see you again!”

Through creative programming (we’ve done everything from brunches, lunches, DIY activities and panel discussions), we regularly come together for themed discussions. From work-life balance to personal branding and discovering your “why”, the conversations that happen at an ideate networking event are open, honest and meaningful. It truly has become more than just your average networking event. It’s a community or as I like to call it, a sisterhood.

Introverts are often led to believe that our “quiet” nature is a weakness. As Susan Cain says in her book Quiet, “introversion has become a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.” Yet some of the world’s greatest ideas and inventions have come from “quiet” people who tuned into their inner workings to uncover treasure. Albert Einstein, J.K. Rowling and Dr. Seuss are all known introverts yet have still made some of the most significant contributions to society. Introverts are often led to believe that we’re unable to change and our “quiet” nature is a weakness.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself during this process it’s that I may dislike chaos but I flourish in a community. Large groups and aimless small talk…not my thing. Small groups, meaningful and deliberate conversation and building community…that’s when I’m at my absolute best.

Don’t get me wrong, I still get a little nervous before each event and I just can’t seem to stop the nervous sweating. (Although, here’s a pro tip I’ve learned: wear a sleeveless top to a networking event so you don’t have to worry about sweat pits). But, not only have I added “networking event host” to my resume in the last year, I’ve also become a speaker who has spoken for organizations like Royal Bank of Canada, City of Toronto, Avanti Women and Young Women in Business Toronto. 

Coincidentally, just a few weeks ago, life came full circle. I received a message from a high school acquaintance that said “Wow, I remember you from high school! You were such a shy girl and now look at you!” and instantly, the biggest smile came across my face.

I did it!

If this is what can happen in just one year, I can’t wait to see what else the future has in store.

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