How To Avoid The Ugly Duckling Syndrome When Networking

Hands up who likes speaking in public? In front of strangers. Hearing your own voice as you speak.

‘Do I really sound like that?’

And then ‘working the room’, making connections, swapping cards… trying to be interesting, pleasant, assertive, and diplomatic. It’s not easy on a rainy Tuesday night when you could be at home, curled up on the sofa, watching House instead.

But… there is a way to make networking events a little less painful. Here’s how.

How To Avoid The Ugly Duckling Syndrome at Networking Events

The trick is to see it as a ‘performance.’

I know what you’re thinking. ‘But shouldn’t I just be myself? That what all the experts say.’

Well, kind of.

PS – read How to Stop Worrying and Start Living to get more tips on this. 

For most of my life I suffered every time I went to an event. Or a dinner party, or a wedding, or any large gathering for that matter. Crowds don’t do it for me. But sometimes you have to go. And this is where the performance comes in.

Here’s how it works.

  • The One Liner – Write down your one line description of who you are, what you do, and why you’re here. (Why you’re here is real important.) Rehearse until it flows. Read it aloud and refine the text until it sounds natural. No buzzwords. Write it like you’re talking to a friend.
  • The Business Card – Have a batch of cards ready at all times. Invest in a thick one if you can (feels much better) and avoid obscure job titles. Then practice giving the cards with your right hand (I’m a lefty) with the text facing upwards, i.e. don’t make them have to flip it around to read who you are. When you receive a card, place it in your wallet or handbag. Don’t flip it into your breast pocket or, god forbid, your trouser’s back pocket. In Asia, you give and receive cards with two hands.
  • Connect others – Instead of waiting for others to introduce you (or walking up to others and introducing yourself, which is painful for most of us), try the following. Look for ways to introduce different people together. See your role as a bridge (or business matchmaker) who links people together. Paradoxically this takes the pressure off you and make the event much more interesting. Instead of worrying about yourself, you start looking for others you can link up.
  • Everyone loves a listener – While none of us like people who talk about themselves, we can’t help but be flattered when others ask us our opinion. ‘So, what do you think of doing business in Asia. Worth the effort?’ Ask open ended questions that give your colleagues a chance to demonstrate their expertise. It’s also a great way to help others get involved in the conversations, especially shy or retiring types who usually have a lot to offer but don’t want to ‘butt’ in.
  • Avoid Food & Drink – Ok, I know you need some nourishment but stock up before the event. There’s nothing worse than trying to juggle finger foods when introduced to someone. Note that most CEOs usually have their hands free. It also makes you look better when photographed. An unflattering photo with a glass of wine in your hand…
  • Work in Batches – Don’t burn up all your energy by trying to meet everyone. Instead, dive in and spend 20 minutes networking. Then make an excuse and jump out. Get a light refreshment, then check your hair, clothes, and (if you’re a gal) lipstick. Working in batches also helps you break up the evening. Rather than facing one long, never-ending night, simply divide it into five, six or seven parts. Somehow it seems easier.
  • Rewards – Always remember to reward yourself. Don’t buy a business book or some other work ‘gift’, instead get yourself a real treat. Maybe it’s a visit to a nice restaurant with a good friend or some really delicious chocolate that your usually wouldn’t treat yourself to. Bailey’s Irish Cream chocolate always does it for me 🙂


Putting on a performance at events doesn’t mean you’re being insincere. Rather its presenting your ‘professional’ self to your peers. The key is to rehearse frequently so that the lines run off more smoothly.

In time you develop your own style.

What about you? How do you cope at networking events, especially if you’re a bit shy or reserved?