The network café

Mercy Mvurya

Saturday 12 March 2022

Have you ever approached someone, introduced yourself and started a conversation only to run out of words after a few minutes? Are you familiar with the resulting awkwardness? Well, you are not alone. Many people find themselves in this situation. It takes courage to approach someone and start a conversation and sustaining it requires mastery of small talk.

Networking with fellow professionals is important for growth and development in various parts of our lives including career and requires the ability to approach people and start the relevant conversations.  It must be intentional, and one cannot just sit at a corner and hope someone will approach them.

To help develop this skill ANLP participants were introduced to ‘network café’. This involved pairing up with a fellow participant, discussing a given topic and then moving on to another participant and starting a discussion on yet a different topic as guided by the facilitators. Conversations were estimated to take 10 minutes. As you can imagine, it seemed difficult at first. Perhaps a little uncomfortable. I found myself wondering if I would sustain the talks and then quickly remembered that everyone was probably feeling the same way. It’s a familiar feeling but we had already interacted for a few days, so it was less intense than when you must approach total strangers. The conversations went well. Participants engaged in different topics and as it got easier with time, when the time was up, we still wanted to continue with the talks.

Networking is an important skill for leaders. To be effective, leaders need the input of other professionals, and they can get this by forming mutually beneficial relationships. Networking opportunities present themselves in various platforms such as conferences, workshops, trainings, and meetings. In a room full of strangers, it takes boldness to approach someone and start a conversation and when you feel like just sitting in a corner and saying nothing, it may calm your nerves to remind yourself that the other people are probably feeling the same. Be optimistic about it but should you find yourself in the earlier described scenario; if the silence becomes awkward and things don’t turn out as planned, make sure to have an exit strategy. Excuse yourself to get a cup of coffee, glass of water or any other creative tricks you may have up your sleeves. Take a deep breathe, smile, and give it a shot again with the next person.