Blog post from Allison Ebner, EANE Director of Member Services
I’d rather have a root canal…
I won’t know anyone in the room…
Meeting new people makes me wanna throw up…
These are just a few of the phrases I’ve heard people say when I mention the subject of networking. Like many things in business today, the art of networking has evolved tremendously over the past decade. The era of large groups gathering after hours over a cash bar has given way to smaller, more focused groups of people in a more purposeful manner.
The young professionals have perfected the art of gathering with a purpose, often banding together to support community events and charitable causes. They’ve discovered that bringing activities into the mix, like bowling nights or hockey games, enhance the bonding experience and creates more opportunities to build key relationships.
But no matter how you slice it, walking into a room full of strangers is a daunting challenge. I’ve experienced the full spectrum of emotions over my career, including sweaty palms, anxiety-filled room entrances, awkward introductions into conversations, fake cell phone conversations to look busy and the stage four clinger scenario – the person that grabs onto you and doesn’t let go. (Pro tip – Don’t be that person!)
I’ve also made some fantastic personal and professional connections at events – including the ones where I didn’t think there was much happening. So what’s the secret sauce to successful networking? Here’s the truth…There is no secret recipe to achieve networking nirvana. But there are some key strategies that you can use to create a better experience for yourself. Here we go!
- Be Yourself! If you have a goofy sense of humor, show it! Let people see who you are and how you operate. The key to finding your ‘tribe’ is to show off your true self.
- Adapt a networking plan that works for YOU! Hate big crowds? Go for one on one meetings or smaller groups. Not sure how to start? Try a BNI group. They have networking down to a literal science.
- Less is More. Take some time to investigate the event options and choose those that most closely match your interests and experiences.
- Get in line… any line! The food line, the line for the bar etc. Once you share that common purpose, you’ve got a natural introduction to your neighbors.
- Listen and learn. With networking, you should really be doing more listening than talking. When you meet people, ask them how YOU can help THEM! There is no better way to build a relationship with someone than by helping them connect to something they need.
And finally, when you’re ready to start talking about yourself, tell a story. Don’t rattle off how many widgets or gadgets you sold last month. Tell them how those widgets helped somebody do something better, faster, stronger. Make the human connection from your product or service to a person. You’ll be remembered for being a great listener, storyteller and an even better human. Now get out there and GO FOR IT!
You can take some of the fear and discomfort out of starting new networking conversations by increasing your own self-awareness. It can be challenging to understand how we’re perceived by others (especially when we’re so focused on how uncomfortable we may feel in a given scenario). Consider participating in a Self-Awareness & Adaptability training that will help you understand your own behavioral style and how to adjust your behaviors to those around you in order to make stronger connections.