The heart beats a little faster, the eyes dart around the room. Thoughts are racing. Who-do-I-know? Anyone? Surely-there’s-someone-here-I-know. Where’s-a-friendly-face? There’s one. Phew. Breathe…
Networking is a word and activity that sometimes feels like a personal crisis. ‘Crisis’ is a word often referred to as meaning either of two things; danger or opportunity.
The danger involved can include being ignored, embarrassed or feeling awkward, but the opportunities are endless.
People are often networking to build their businesses, grow their sales or public profile, but if you endeavor instead to enrich the lives of others, your life and business can be enriched beyond your current imagining.
Go to an event happy. Not stressed, not rushed. Take a few minutes in the car with a happy song – perhaps THE “Happy” song – cheer yourself up and go in ready to relax and have a laugh with people.
Take note of positive news! You’ll connect much more effectively if you’re the person who makes people smile rather than swap notes on the horrid events that make the headlines. Surprise people with great news, quirky info and helpful tips.
Go to give. If you’re happy to give your time to listen to others, share their story when you can, introduce them to others, their gratitude will impact your world in surprising ways. Go to give. Not to be seen giving, but to give freely. Be kind and ready to help others.
All around you are many great business and community leaders – and many of them don’t have auspicious titles and fancy cars. They might be found in the corner of a room serving coffee or counting raffle tickets.
One of the most useful things to remember is that you can’t guess another person’s story with a glance.
Be yourself! It’s so much easier to connect when you don’t have to hold your ‘professional face’ on! And you can sense it when you’re talking to someone who’s ‘the real deal’. It’s just easier on everyone. If you’re authentic and positive, you’ll find it easier to talk to connect with those worth your time and attention.
It’s helpful to remember that if you’re walking into a function and feeling nervous – your nerves are an indicator that your focus is on yourself and how you’re appearing to others.
If you let that go (which you can do by choosing to shift your focus) and consider others – you’ll relax and make great connections. Consider how you might be of service and how you might help others feel welcome.
Even if you’re a newcomer – let go of a sense of entitlement – that someone should be welcoming you – and reach out to others to help them connect.
Think about the kind of people you’d like to connect with – more than just the industry you want to connect with. You might be after more opportunities in the finance sector, but an engaging conversation with a student might open a door in higher places than you expect. Everyone is a daughter, son, partner or friend of someone.
Smile. To quote my dear late friend Bede Tongs, MM OAM: “There is strength in a smile.” A smile opens doors. A smile relaxes people. A smile is almost always returned and multiplied.
Notice what you’re curious about. If you want to ask about the venue or the speaker or the organisers, just ask. A great way to frame a question is “I’m curious…” or “Can I ask you about…?
Ask questions which take the conversation in a positive direction. Some examples are, ‘What’s your favourite thing about your work?’ Or ‘What do you most enjoy about living here?’.
Ask for recommendations – people love being able to share their perspective. This also helps people to relax and be themselves.
So, maybe you need to talk to strangers and acquaintances everyday at work. There are many networking events coming up and they may have a business theme or might be community events.
The most important thing is to take the pressure off you! If you’re trying to sound educated, important or influential, you’ll probably go home beating yourself up about how you think you came across, which won’t be accurate anyway.
Cheering you on,