Networking is Awkward… and that’s OK
Welcome to Awkward Networker!
Welcome. I’m Sean Hand, a marketing/business development leader for a global professional services firm – based in Philadelphia. On average, I attend 4+ networking events per week, and with each hand I shake and business card I swap, there is only one prevailing principle I’ve learned – networking is awkward!
Take the picture above, for instance. This picture was taken at the opening of a large event that friends and I held for our organization, NichePHL. In this picture, I’m shaking hands with then Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, while David Cohen, Senior EVP of Comcast, chuckles adoringly behind us. Man, it looks like I know what I’m doing, doesn’t it?
You would never know that 10 seconds before that picture was taken, I had my back turned to these two powerful people, not knowing they’d arrived. I was helping a guest find her name tag, when Ed the Photographer shouted, “Hey Sean!” I turned around in time to see Ed (whom I know) command Mayor Nutter to shake my hand and “make it look real”. Taken aback by Ed’s brazenness, Mayor Nutter simply responded, “um OK, and what’s your name, sir?” while outstretching his hand toward me.
Annnd… Boom. Awkward.
What just happened? When did these powerful people arrive? Ed, what the hell are you doing? Did you just stop the Philadelphia mayor mid-stride and instruct him to shake my hand WHILE MY BACK WAS TURNED? Are you nuts?
You wouldn’t know that awkward story by looking at this picture, because when the time came, I immediately ignored those awkward impulses, clasped the mayor’s outstretched hand and said, “Welcome, Mayor Nutter”. I mean… I was profusely sweating, but luckily you can’t see that in the picture either. My ability to adapt, avoid, escape, and overcome those awkward situations resulted from hundreds of hours immersing myself in uncomfortable networking settings.
I have endured (and continue to endure) many awkward networking experiences. There have been times I’ve foolishly skipped the buffet and hit the bar instead, eventually slurring my way into some awful first impressions. Times that I’ve seen an event rescheduled for later in the year and noticed all the same people were invited back except me. Times that I’ve accidentally said something so boneheaded, I can’t get the person to acknowledge my existence even today when we’re in the same room. Times I’ve been sloppily hit on, and times that I’ve unknowingly and unintentionally hit on someone else. The list is endless.
Over time, I began to strategize ways to avoid these awkward situations and develop a plan to overcome them should they arise again. As I began drafting these tips, tricks, and strategies over the years, I noticed my networking awkwardness decreased in both number and severity. Soon, I began to mentor other young-to-mid professionals who were new to the networking/professional development scene. These tips to avoid awkwardness became my calling card, and I starting wondering whether I should share this advice with a wider audience.
I can’t tell you how many “developing your personal brand” or “finding your motivation” seminars I’ve choked down over the years. The market is saturated with fluffy, intangible rhetoric that invokes a momentary motivation for the audience, yet withers to dust the moment the audience returns to their real lives. Similarly, it seems like the Internet is stocked with articles and blogs telling people how to live rich, meaningful lives and enjoy successful careers, only to be sandwiched between angry political posts and “5 things you should stop doing right now” listicles.
What happened to providing motivation through practical, tangible education? What happened to simply providing advice to an audience or a reader that they can refer back to and apply when the moment requires it?
I developed this site in an attempt to answer these questions. My readers can expect articles that provide a wealth of practical tips to cultivate the natural networker inside all of us. In addition, I will share professional development opinions and insights to help you think more strategically about how to best utilize your network. Finally, you’ll notice that beneath the tips, tools, and anecdotal support, I truly enjoy this topic, and I truly enjoy the pursuit of converting strangers into friends. I hope you find my site useful and inspiring, and I welcome your feedback and suggestions for future articles.