Networking on an Empty Stomach
It's 6:30 pm on a Wednesday evening. You enter a dimly lit room that's already abuzz with the sounds of talking and laughter. Smartly dressed waiters glide around the room offering trays of beautifully presented hors d'oeuvres. Drinks are flowing and conversation is in full swing. Everyone here seems relaxed, confident. You, on the other hand, have arrived after a full day at the office, complete with a working lunch and barely any time to leave your desk. Your blood sugar levels are low, and your mind is still on the last fire you put out before you dashed off, suddenly remembering this commitment. You've had too many of these evenings recently, and would rather be on your way home instead of standing around in uncomfortable shoes and tight trousers. Sound familiar?
Love them or hate them, attendance at networking events is essential for anyone looking to grow their business. And unfortunately, whether it's after-work cocktails, buffet-style meals, or full blown sit-down dinners, the menus are not usually designed with your optimal nutrition in mind. So what can you do about it? How can you navigate these professional commitments while maintaining your own health and well-being?
"A goal without a plan is just a wish" - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
We can't control everything that happens in our day, but there are definitely some aspects within our influence. Included in those is knowing what's in your schedule and planning for it. Got an event coming up? To be successful, you need to be ready.
But how can you prepare? Start with someone you know well-yourself. If you are usually ravenous by the time 6 pm rolls around, eat a proper meal at four, so that you're still full during the event. Instead of being at the mercy of devouring whatever is on the nearest passing tray, you'll be free to use the time productively, to find the people you really want to talk to instead of trailing that plate of devilled eggs with your eyes.
Or perhaps the event includes a meal, and you don't want to fill up too much beforehand. In that case, consider your preparation objective to be supplementing what's likely to be missing-usually colourful veggies and adequate protein portions. This will still allow you to arrive somewhat sated, so that you can focus on speaking and listening while you nibble and taste, making the best of the opportunity to connect with people.
"Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink." - Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The benefits of being well-hydrated should not be understated. Water plays a key role in helping your body get the nutrients it needs to operate efficiently and effectively. Without boring you on the science of it all, suffice it to say that water helps you feel, move, and look better. Many people have excellent hydration habits while at work-you know, those people who remember to fill up their water bottles each time they get up to go to the bathroom or collect something at the printer. Maybe you're one of them. Outside of work, however, it's a different environment and a different story. At networking events the idea of water likely doesn't cross your mind since your routine cues are gone and the prospects of a fancy coffee or 'free' drinks can seem too appealing. By all means, have your coffee or cocktail. But consider mixing it up-one drink followed by some sparkling water, perhaps. Or club soda with a touch of lime juice if you want something out of the ordinary. There are lots of interesting hydrating options to choose from in addition to the tempting glasses of wine drifting by.
"The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age."
- Lucille Ball
There are plenty of studies proving the benefits of eating slowly: improved digestion, enhanced enjoyment of food, and weight loss, to name a few. It's a good habit at any time, but particularly at a networking event, where the purpose is to connect with new people and catch up with colleagues. Food and drink are just a sideshow, so take the time to mingle and talk. If the event includes a meal, putting down your fork between bites allows you to slow down and actively engage with the people sitting at your table. This method also serves as a good cover-up when you don't really like the cooking! Chewing slowly has the added benefit of forcing you to take smaller bites, thereby allowing you to respond to questions without a mouth full of food.
"Have fun!" - Everyone, everywhere
Life is too short to be miserable. If you often attend networking events because you feel obligated, find ways to make them more enjoyable. Bring a friend, or make a game of it: challenge yourself to talk to one new person, or try to fit your favourite Netflix show into every conversation. If you're really not up to it, decline the occasional RSVP. Stress plays a massive role in our overall well-being. It affects our relationships and the quality of our sleep and digestion, among other things. However, when you can enjoy yourself at the event, feeling good about the time you've invested, your level of stress is likely to diminish, thereby helping you cope better with life's other challenges. People are attracted to those who look like they're having fun, and that can only be good for business!
Usha is a nutrition coach and certified personal trainer. She once had a successful career at a 'desk job' with lots of travel perks, but traded it in to help others live and love the healthy lifestyle they want for themselves. She has helped many clients overcome the challenge of balancing work and healthy activity, finding great joy in celebrating their fitness successes as if they were her own.