Barcelona is a great city for networking. If you’re really committed to expanding your professional network, you can find an event to go every single day of the week.
But while networking may be all fun and games for those who find socialising easy, it can be quite a challenge for others. Some of us just aren’t that good at mingling with strangers or have never been to such an event before.
So how do you muster up the courage and arm yourself with the skills to go out there and actually get something out of a networking event?
The students of the Professional Communication and Development class taught by Victoria Masters already know the answer.
Overcoming social anxiety
This semester, Victoria has been working hard to get her students to go out into the wild and use Barcelona as their classroom. Besides teaching students how to overcome anxiety when speaking in public and helping them improve their presentation skills, she’s also been taking them to networking events all around the city.
The objective: to overcome that feeling of awkward nervousness that all inexperienced networkers have when they’re first thrown into the deep end. And, of course, to help students build their professional circles.
“I firmly believe that the sooner students start networking, the easier it will become for them to grow professionally and find the roles that they want,” Victoria says.
Victoria is no stranger to that uncomfortable feeling when you’re standing in the corner of a room full of people, too scared to start a conversation.
“I only started networking when I came to Barcelona. Before then, I felt quite intimidated. And I didn’t really enjoy networking because all the events that I’d been to were quite formal. In Barcelona, I found that networking events were more relaxed and welcoming, and I was able to get over that social anxiety. But it still happens sometimes, especially when I go to an event where I don’t know anybody,” she says.
“People make it seem so easy. It looks like everyone is super confident and you’re the only one cowering behind a column, trying desperately not to be noticed. But you know what? That’s actually not true,” she says.
“You’re not the only one who gets nervous in a room full of strangers. It’s just that other people might be better at pretending that they’re comfortable. It’s important that we talk about this, so none of us feels alone,” says Victoria.
Attending Startup Grind Barcelona
Last week, Victoria and her class attended Startup Grind Barcelona, a monthly event organised in the Movistar Centre on Plaza Cataluña. The event has a classic three-part structure: it starts with an open mic session, followed by a fireside chat with a high-profile guest, and ends with networking, beers and empanadas.
As an assignment before the event, Victoria asked her students to prepare their 30-second pitches for the open mic – and to her delight, some of them eagerly volunteered to introduce themselves on stage.
“I also got to practice a little what I had been learning in Victoria’s class by going on up stage to introduce myself,” says student Osato Asabor.
Osato even went up to the speaker, Juan Zamora, the CEO and Founder of the Barcelona startup Signaturit, and had a chat with him.
“Even though the topic was “Techy” I did learn a lot. He was talking about how he started his B2B business and I took lessons I could apply to myself as I begin my journey of venturing into the freelance world,” says Osato.
“I hope this experience will inspire them to go to more networking events,” says Victoria. “In December, we’re attending MeltinLab, so that will be the next big event.”
Networking events are not the only activities that Victoria has woven into her course plan. She also took her students to a recording studio in Eixample called Add2Bee Creative. It’s run by an experienced filmmaker, Beth, who gave them a master class titled Film is the Future. “It was about the importance of film in communication and business. I think that was the students’ favourite class,” Victoria says.
At the studio, the students had the opportunity to film each other using different props and different lighting techniques. They were surprised to see how they looked on camera, how they presented themselves. “It was a really hands-on workshop. And it helped the students prepare for their final projects,” says Victoria.
The final project in question was to create a video, a workshop or a podcast and give useful networking tips to students or young graduates.
“The class we had at the film studio really helped to shape my ideas for what I would like to communicate and how to do so in terms of video editing. I enjoyed working with my team on it and honestly the final result brought us all joy,” says Osato.
Victoria agrees, “So far, we’ve seen some really great videos and a fantastic podcast.”
How to master networking
So how can someone who’s not a natural – or just new to networking – get started? Here are 6 essential networking tips that everyone can benefit from.
- Preparation is key. Before you go to a networking event, do some research on the speaker and the topics they will cover. You will feel more confident if you’re in the know.
- Check who else is going. Startup Grind, for example, shares a list of featured attendees. Look them up on LinkedIn and see who might be interesting to talk to.
- Think about what you’re going to wear, and pick something that makes you feel good in your own skin. One of the perks of living in Barcelona is that networking events are usually quite casual – you’re not expected to dress up for the occasion.
- Go with a friend or colleague. There’s nothing worse than wandering around alone at a networking event, with no idea what to do. Having a friend to lean on can make it much easier, and you can introduce each other to new people.
- Ask a question during the Q&A. Putting your hand up is a great way to get noticed by people in the room. Someone might remember you and approach you during the networking!
- If it’s your first time going, just go! Putting on your shoes and getting out of the house is the hardest step. Once you’ve done that, there’s nothing that can stop you from becoming a master networker.
How can networking help you with your career?
“When you meet someone somewhere like Startup Grind, where they focus on building relationships first, it’s easier to get to know people in a more relaxed environment and build a network that will be useful to your career,” says Osato.
We agree that networking can have several different benefits for young professionals looking to kickstart their careers.
- Finding employment. Networking is a fantastic way to strike up long-term relationships and potentially find your future employer.
- Finding people to collaborate with. If you’re working on a project and your team lacks someone with the right skills for a specific task, you may just find the perfect person at a networking event.
- Getting feedback on your business idea. If you have a startup idea that you’d like to run past someone with experience in a specific field or industry, they may be waiting for you at a networking event.
- Finding a mentor. Startups with mentors do much better than the ones who go at it alone. Maybe you’ll find the Yoda to your Skywalker at your next networking event!
- Learning about different industries or disciplines. Networking events are not just valuable for the conversations, they usually have some really interesting educational content, too. For example, this time around at Startup Grind, we learned some things about B2B sales we never thought we wanted to know!
- Practising communication and social skills. There’s no better way to put your social skills to the test than surrounding yourself with a bunch of strangers.
- Building confidence. The more you network, the easier it will be. Soon, you’ll wonder why you were ever nervous in the first place.