By Felicity Edwards
Oh god, here we go. This is it. After nervously glancing at my calendar for the last three weeks, the evening has finally come. Networking event? Pah. I can do this.
I've done the mantra. I am a strong, independent, successful woman who will kick ass. I'll be charming, personable, humorous and witty. I give myself a once over. Yep, the outfit is on point and for once I'm not over caffeinated to the point of twitching and my demeanour doesn't reek of a 12 hour shift.
Before entering the dragon's den, I take a deep breath. I squint as I take in the sea of sharply dressed people mingling, laughing, nodding and frowning at each other. I pick up a glass of perspiring white wine from the drinks table and beeline it to the nearest group.
Awkwardly hovering the outside the chatty circle, I hear a comment about equities and they all break into polite laughter. A man on the outer ring wearing a designer shirt takes notice of me and walks over to introduce himself. We exchange names, then he asks what I do. I smile and answer. Instantly his own friendly smirk melts into a solemness It’s as if I told him I worked for the Church of Euthanasia.
“Ah, I'm looking for people in investment banking,” he says while turning on his heel and walking away. I stand there in shock, jaw-dropped and left wondering whether I actually hadn't told him what I do, but instead asked him to the school dance. I had that feeling of being r-e-j-e-c-t-e-d.
Mentally pepping myself up, refusing to feel deflated, I fling myself back out there boomerang style. It's disappointing. Unfortunately so.
As the evening wears on, I become annoyed at myself for feeling surprised that the networking events I've been to are always like this. They're the same. Always. A few awkwardly floating people like myself who continue eyeing the exit desperately, while 'the rest' pinball around the room, quizzing people on their jobs and mercilessly severing contact (should the answer not be the one they wanted to hear). All of this whilst embodying a sense of professionalism and sophistication? Hardly. I feel like the new kid at school again, with wine in hand instead of a juicebox, and an oversized handbag in place of a backpack.
As I watch another person swipe past in ardent search for someone who can help him with his pretentious sounding modernist architect project, I down the rest of my wine and charge stealthily for the door. I'm done.
Getting to my apartment and kicking off my shoes with a sigh of relief, I find myself wondering why do these events have to be such difficult experiences? Doesn't it seem counter-productive to attend such events with the sole mission to find people in your field to connect with, but instead spend the whole evening blindly searching for a needle in a haystack? Not only that, but seemingly desensitise yourself to the callous Tinder-esque brush-offs as well. And the rest of us hover about in the ether, berating ourselves for not putting ourselves out there and simply wishing we'd stayed home with that pint of ice cream and new Netflix series to binge.
The next day I meet for coffee with a friend and share my thoughts. I was relieved to hear that she'd had similar experiences at networking events and we agreed that there must be a simpler solution to the problem. Wouldn't it be great to go to these events and have an idea of who would be there and how we could connect together? To find a cluster of like-minded people who would be happy to spend time engaging and talking about shared fields instead of sinking in the professional sea in search of a lifejacket?
So we make a pact to go to another event together and she invites some friends who work in similar fields to us. And guess what? We meet, we talk, we discuss projects. Through my friend's introduction I find myself making future coffee meetings with women who are delighted to find that we're in similar fields and can help each other with new ventures.
It's liberating and the entire experience leaves me feeling so refreshed and inspired that I wish I'd been doing this all along. I leave the event with a spring in a step and a smile on my face. The networking experience may still make some of us quake in our boots, but there is a solution. If we can find our clusters of people who will help us feel like the professional badasses we know we are, then the future is surely brighter.
Felicity’s love affair with Berlin started several years ago after a journalism project where she fell for the city’s vibrancy, freedom, and cheap beer. You can find her reading in Tempelhof, drinking/writing in dark kneipe alcoves or kickboxing around Berlin.