July 27, 2007

My three rules of networking

I've mentioned before that I'm not in love with networking events. It's not that I don't like networking and meeting people; I just dread those first few minutes walking into a room full of strangers and trying to figure out what to do next.

However, I'm getting more comfortable now, because I'm following the two big rules of networking and the one big rule of being me.

1. Act like you're the host.

I put this into action last night at a networking event where I didn't know anyone. I ended up engrossed in conversation with one person, and out of the corner of my eye, noticed another woman standing by herself near us. I looked at her nametag (let's say her name was Guinevere) and said, "Guinevere, why don't you join us?"

It's always hard to break into established groups, especially the twosomes and threesomes, because they seem very intimate and there's no way to join without being noticed!

By acting like you're the host of the event and putting others' comfort before your own, your own comfort level will rise and you will also meet more people!

2. Focus on the other person.

A lot of people feel intimidated at networking events because they feel pressured to hand out business cards and talk about what they do in order to get new clients or customers. Of course it's awkward to walk up to someone and start talking about yourself. Who does that, anyway?

I recently spoke to a woman who was so intent on making sure everyone learned about her business that she neglected to listen to the people she was talking to. She gave fleeting attention to learning about the other women in the room, but it was obvious that she was just biding her time so she could talk about herself. When one person makes another feel unimportant and insignificant, do you think that other person will want to do business with her?

Put your attention on the person you're talking to. Ask questions and in doing so, think about what you might have to offer this person, besides your own services. Do you know someone who might be interested in doing business with her? Can you recommend a great book? Do you know someone in a similar field who would make a good contact?

Again, once you're focused on the needs of the other person, your own comfort level increases. The pressure is off to talk about yourself in a forced, unnatural way. They'll eventually get around to asking what you do, and that's just good conversation. Think of networking as meeting new people and having great conversations, rather than trying to sell stuff.

3. The rule of being me - act the part

When I walk into a room and I'm uncomfortable, my instinct is to settle in next to the wine and self-medicate. I overcome that urge by playing a character - the version of myself that's confident, witty, friendly and outgoing - "me" at my best. "Me" in my comfort zone. "Me" when I'm feeling really good about myself.

I'm not pretending to be someone else. I'm just pretending to be the best version of "me." I walk up to people and introduce myself. I start conversations or join conversations already in progress. I ask questions, get to know people, and within a short time, the pretend "me" is gone and the real "me" emerges. I don't even notice it happening; it's completely organic.

Okay, this might sound strange to some of you. And don't forget, part of my background is in theater, so I'm used to playing characters (and heck, I am a character!). This might not work for everyone, but I highly recommend giving it a try!

Visualize yourself at your best and most confident, then remember that the next time you attend an event or party where you're not entirely comfortable. Put on the character of "you" and see how it fits.

Following these three rules of networking have pushed me past my discomfort, and these days I rarely feel nervous when walking into a room full of strangers.

What are some of your networking tips?

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

Anonymous said...

"When I walk into a room and I'm uncomfortable, my instinct is to settle in next to the wine and self-medicate."

Ha! I can name that tune in no notes! Great tips. I will have to try that particular one out (acting in the role of "confident me," not self-medicating).

Matthew Cornell said...

Good stuff. Reminds me of the seven Bs of relationship building (from "The fred factor" by Mark Sanborn):
1. Be real (your #3)
2. Be interested (not just interesting) (your #2)
3. Be a better listener
4. Be empathic
5. Be honest
6. Be helpful
7. Be prompt

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