From mentors, to professional women in our lives, to great thought-leaders, there are many role models to turn to for examples of where we want to go. How we get there is another question. For the next few weeks, we aim to unlock that with help of Coach Colene of Be More Consulting. Every Wednesday, we’ll be bringing you another topic to take your career to the next level. Today, we’re talking networking.
“Your network is your net worth.”
If career moves are one of your goals for 2018, then you already, know that networking will be a part of helping you achieve that goal. In today’s world, knowing the right people (either in real life or virtually) can open up the land of possibilities. I learned my best networking skills when I was a little girl. My family would go out to eat, and I would get sad if I saw someone eating alone. I would walk over to them, introduce myself, and ask if they wanted to come eat with us. I never realized that some people actually liked eating by themselves, and didn’t want to be bothered by an overly-friendly little girl. Surprisingly, when I think about the keys to successful networking, what I learned from all those times inviting people to eat come to mind.
Before I dive into that, let’s chat about why networking is still relevant. I would actually argue it’s more important today than it’s ever been. In a digital world, it’s become more important to build real relationships for success. I can attest to the benefits of networking all day, but simply, building and maintaining relationships is a valuable skill. It’s become so easy to embellish your skills and experience that having a connection to someone that can vouch for you is invaluable. Many organizations look for a personal connection to a new hire.
Even though we all know that networking is important, people still tend to approach it with dread. Here are a few tips to help decrease the “yuck” and increase the “yay”.
Approach With Confidence
A few months ago, I posted a question on social media, asking what makes you nervous about networking. One of the top responses I got was feeling less interesting or less successful than everyone else. I’ll tell you, that energy will introduce you even before you say your name, so my top tip is approach with confidence.
One way to build confidence in introducing yourself is to practice before the networking event. The next time you’re in line at Starbucks, introduce yourself to the person in line with you, or the barista. If you’re at the grocery store, introduce yourself to someone. Find ways to meet new people in less formal events. I’m not saying give your entire elevator speech, just a casual introduction. This will help lessen the fear by strengthening your intro game. Make a goal to introduce yourself at least five times a week. Then, when you get to the networking events, it won’t feel as overwhelming.
If you’re feeling less confident, I always remind myself that everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time, just like I do. My success, and wellbeing isn’t hinged on the introduction to this one person, neither is yours. Enter the introduction as a peer that also has something valuable to offer.
Make Everyone Feel Important
I have never met a stranger, and I love networking, but there are still moments that I feel anxious about going to an event. In those moments, I remind myself of this simple truth, “it’s not about me.” My main objective is making every person I talk to feel like the most important person in the room.
Yes, I will throw in information about my experience, or the work I’ve done. Yes, I’m going to show them how amazing I am. Yes, I might eventually want to cash in on this connection, but the main purpose of making this initial connection is to be of service to them, and build a mutual relationship.
One of the first ways I suggest doing this, is asking questions. I don’t mean make it the Great Inquisition, but make getting to know them the most important objective. I have a few non-traditional go-to questions:
- What are you most grateful for right now?
- What do you love most about the work you do?
- What has been your proudest moment this year?
You see what I did with those questions? I made them think of things that evoke feeling.
One, it raises their energy in a positive way. Two, you stand out.
Think about the types of questions everyone else is asking… BORING! Here you come along, asking powerful and interesting questions. They instantly remember you.
This Maya Angelou quote rings true, “I’ve learned that people may forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Even in networking, make people feel that they are valued, unique and important.
Have a Game Plan
Don’t just stumble into a networking event without a game plan. It’s like driving without Waze… not a good idea. Plan your events wisely. There’s no need to go to an event for marketing if you’re not in marketing or looking for someone to handle your marketing. It’s not a good use of your time or energy to sign up for every event you see. Be smart about it.
Before you go, think about what kind of connections you want to make at this event. What is your main objective? How many people do you want to meet. I usually try to limit myself to five, because I’ve found anything more than that can lead to less authentic connections.
Figure out how you’ll gracefully end conversations. I see a lot of people fumble to end a conversation, even when the topics are running sparse. Then it gets awkward. End a conversation with a simple “Thank you” and what the next step will be.
Plan your follow-up route. Will you email or call? Will you do it all on the same day or try to spread it out. And please, for the love of all that’s good in the world, do the things you said you would do. Meaning, if you promised someone you’d send them an email with the content info you talked about, send them the content info you talked about. Again, this is about building positive relationships.
Be Your (best)self
Remember when you first start dating someone, you bring your best self forward. That means you dress a little nicer, you listen a little more, you are engaged in great and meaningful conversation. Make sure you bring your best self to any networking event.
I don’t care for the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it”, but I always tell my clients to “act as if…” Meaning, act as if you already had your dream job. Act as if you were already making the amount of money you wanted to make. Act as if you were the most confident in yourself, knowledge and skills. Wear your best outfit (hello, Gwynnie Bee)… the one that makes you feel like you can take on the world. I don’t want you to be fake. I want you to be authentic, but the very best version of yourself. The one that makes you feel proud!
Don’t put yourself on the backburner when it comes to networking… bring your best self forward.
A couple of other quick tips:
- Limit the drinks — It can get sloppy really quick. I don’t drink at all at networking events because it normally makes me extra sweaty when I get nervous.
- My favorite place to introduce myself to people is in the restroom while we’re washing hands. Seems less intimidating that way. Other great places, the bar line, and people hanging around the perimeter of the event.
- Follow-up. Follow-up. Follow-up. — This all means nothing if you’re not willing to do the work to follow-up and actually build the relationship. One of the ways I can quickly follow-up is to send an email with an article relevant to something we may have talked about.
- Have a get hype song — the song that makes you feel your most confident self, and play it before you walk in!
This is not a race to see how many business cards you can hand out… it’s about making connections.
Networking is still an important aspect of your career. The more positive relationships you build, the more opportunities will present themselves to you. There is still truth in, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Build those relationships on a solid foundation of mutual respect, trust and giving. You’ll open yourself up to greater opportunities, more money, and better relationships.
What’s your favorite way to network?
Invaluable advice, Colene! Check back to the blog next week for our continued conversations with our life coach on topics like, time management or check out her last post on goal setting.