Is anyone really super-confident in their abilities to mingle with strangers and come up with witty small talk while advertising their work prowess? It ain't easy – being thrown into a networking situation (as thankful as you are to have it) can make you want to cower under a table with a napkin full of cheese. Especially if you don't have a posse to move around with. Don’t panic. Get present, be yourself, and prepare (but not too much). Here's how.
Prepare – but not too much
Try to find out via your social media channels who’s going to be there. This will give you some peace of mind, especially if you’ve met anyone before. Also, being able to envision the space and / or the schedule of events will also give you more of a sense of control. Come up with a specific goal to focus on at the event (ie – talk to a specific person and ask them how they got into the business, compliment someone on their clever tweets, etc.) As long as your goal isn't "not have a panic attack," having a focus will help you keep your head above those crashing waves of anxiety.
Remind yourself of your accomplishments (and don't compare yourself to others in this process! You are the only one that is youer than you.) Decide on your worst case / best case scenarios in the situation – what if you humiliate yourself in front of the best person in the world and they make a point to blacklist you from the industry? What if the best person in the world offers you a book deal? Either way, it’s entirely possible they won’t remember by next week. Get realistic (not nihilistic). This is business. All you'll really remember about the event is the way you felt. Take care of yourself. Don't let your confidence take a hit, no matter what happens.
Actually be yourself
Making connections doesn't means fooling someone into thinking you’re smart, experienced or charming. The best connections are made with the people you actually jive with. I doesn't have to be superficial. Be yourself, and focus on your goal (see above.) People will see that and notice it. What would Elle Woods do?
Know that it’s not life or death
You may care about your career in a life or death way, and if you do, that's awesome! Just remember that at the end of the day, no one person or event will ever ruin your passion or dedication. That's what you really need to succeed – not a fat stack of business cards in your wallet. Connections are just an icing on the cake. When they come around and they're real, they'll stick. Trust that.
Before you make your suave solo entrance with a smile, brush up on your current events and remind yourself that you're a smarty pants with industry prowess. When in doubt? Talk about the latest Rob Ford disaster. Then everyone feels a little better about themselves.