November 27, 2006

Networking dread

I know I'm supposed to be a role model of public speaking, but I have my fears and discomforts, just like everyone else. In fact, I've revealed some of that in my last two posts.

So last week, I made a commitment to attend a women's networking event. It was a "ladies' happy hour" hosted by a local women's magazine at a restaurant owned by a friend of mine, and I hoped I would know some people there - if only the restaurant owner!

As I mentioned this to my husband, he pointed out that I was looking at it the wrong way. "You should really be hoping that there aren't people you know there, so you can make some new connections." He reminded me that it was not a social event, but a business event, and I should be looking to build my business.

Hel-LO! Needed that brilliant reminder.

When I arrived, the magazine publisher (who I do know already) came right over to say hello and to ask if I needed any introductions. Many points to her for knowing how to be a good host! That gave me the opportunity to scope out the room, identify people I know, and see if there's anyone I should meet.

I saw a friend of mine talking with a group of women I didn't know - including one I had corresponded with by e-mail and had hoped to meet in person. So I took the opportunity to say hello to my friend and introduce myself to the group. It turned out that there were a number of recognizable "names" there, whose faces I had never seen. Many of them work in the media, so I made an effort to introduce myself to those I had met by e-mail but never met in person.

I noticed that some of the women there had hunkered down in pairs and didn't appear open to anyone joining them. I don't know if their intention for attending the event was to network and meet new people, but it certainly was not about to happen, based on their body language. Good lesson for me as an observer.

I can't say I "worked the room," although I did meet a few new people. I eventually ended up engrossed in conversation with someone who is in a similar line of work, and we ended up comparing notes, sharing resources and making plans to meet again.

I approached the event as a way to meet new people, first, and as a business-building opportunity second. I'm not about the "hard sell." I'm an outgoing person who likes to make friends, and that attitude served me well. Thanks to my husband for putting it all into perspective.

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