On 18 April, International Women’s Networking Group Rotterdam joined forces with Venture Cafe, Rotterdam Partners, Leiden-Delft-Erasmus, and Madame Rotterdam to host a break out session at Venture Cafe’s International Talent Night.

The workshop, led by Eldridge Labinjo, focused on effective offline networking in Rotterdam. But it wasn’t about what kind of card stock to use for your business cards, or what the color of your blouse says about your writing skills. The session focused on how to be comfortable in your own skin.

Madame Rotterdam introduces Eldridge Labinjo at Venture Cafe's Reinvent Yourself program
Madame Rotterdam introduces Eldridge Labinjo

Opening Remarks

Eldridge starts the session by showing us his socks. “What color are the arrows on my socks?” he asks. It’s a trick question though – not because there are multiple colors, but because there are arrows facing both directions. One way, the arrows are multi-colored, but going the other way, the arrows are black.

“It’s all about perception,” he tells us.

How To Be Approachable

He then led the group through a few exercises to help us relax. (This is where his background as a ballet dancer and theatre director really shined!) Eldridge talked about how our physical presence affects not only our state of mind, but also how others feel around us.

It may seem obvious, but consider how you may behave at a Rotterdam networking event. Do you stand with a straight or slouched back? Do you look down at your phone, or do you hold your chin up with hopes of making conversation?

Eldridge also talked about the importance of a genuine smile as part of that physical presence. We can feel the difference between a real smile and a forced smile, and when we have a real smile on your face, our bodies can relax. And when we’re relaxed, we feel more open and approachable.

How to Make Others Feel Comfortable Around You

Reaching that relaxed, approachable presence is easier said than done, but once you feel comfortable, you can help others feel comfortable as well.

For example, when you stand up straight and face the room as well as the person you’re speaking with, it allows others to approach you. It also gives your audience space to move around and potentially exit the conversation without awkward disruption.

In contrast, if you stand completely facing the other person, you are physically shutting others out of a conversation. Furthermore, by facing your entire body towards the other person, rather than facing them at an angle, you may make your companion feel trapped. And while you may feel you’ve captivated your audience, they may reflect on the conversation as a bad experience.

How to Have an Enjoyable Conversation

After helping us all relax, Eldridge had us create groups of three to practice speaking and listening to each other. Again, it may seem obvious that we’re supposed to listen and speak in a conversation, but how we do it can determine whether it’s an enjoyable or painful experience.

One technique was to ask open-ended questions: instead of asking “Do you like working in the tech industry?” Try asking “What do you like about working in the tech industry?”

As the one answering the question, Eldridge also recommends repeating or rephrasing what the listener said. For example, the response to the above question might start “What I like about working in the tech industry is…”or perhaps “I enjoy working in the tech industry because…”

Using these words affirms that you heard the question, which help your audience feel like an active part of the conversation.

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Sterling Schuyler
Sterling Schuyler moved to Rotterdam in June 2018 from Bavaria, Germany, but she is originally from the United States. As a result, she has restarted her career three times, and currently works as a freelance marketing consultant. Whether you want to know more about her professional development, have questions about her own struggles, or just want to grab a coffee, she’ll be happy to hear from you.

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