The popular saying traditionally goes “it’s not what you know, but who you know” – or some variation of that. We’ve all heard it – numerous times – and probably so much so that it initiates much eye rolling and some sense of fear in us. As part of my leadership roles (and in part due to my fundamental need for social interaction) I attend about 2-3 networking events each week where the unspoken goal and expectation is to meet as many people as possible within the time you are allotted – or at least it always feels that way.
Now, for an outgoing social butterfly like myself, such a task isn’t so daunting and overwhelming. At least it’s nothing that a glass of wine and a killer bow-tie can’t fix. However, if you happen to be a more introverted, shy, or timid individual in a room full of assertive/aggressive leaders, it’s hard enough walking through that door, not to mention engaging in conversation with some random person who might (heaven forbid) start asking you questions about yourself! In these situations, I’ve personally observed that “fight or flight” moment in someone’s eyes and can totally sense their desire to run. I get it.
Well, I’m here to tell you…DON’T! Don’t run. In fact, you need to embrace that feeling of discomfort if you want to grow. Cliché as it may be, there is some value to the aforementioned phrase. It may not be some life-changing opportunity that you find through who you know, but it might be a great resource or connection that you can call upon the next time you need help. And the only way to have that is to meet new people. In doing so, you may find yourself learning a new skill, engaging in a new hobby, or meeting a life-long friend. Whatever it may be, you will never find out if you don’t take the risk of expanding your networks and contacts.
I have so many friends that struggle with what to do, what to say, and/or how to act when they’re in these situations. These are completely valid fears – after all, spending 5-10 minutes engaging in value-driven conversations with a stranger is stressful and scary enough, but to do that for an hour and a half…..AHHHH!
BUT DON’T WORRY! I’m here to help! Here are some tips that I have personally used to help me network more effectively – to the point where I now really enjoy it!
1) Learn about the organization/group that is putting on the event.A great way to start a conversation is to ask how people got involved with the hosting group or organization. The flip side is that it gives you a chance to talk about how you heard about the group, why you’re there, and how you want to stay involved.
2) Ask lots of questions. People love to talk about their jobs, their families, their interests, etc. All you have to do is ask.
3) Be an active listener. This requires that you care about the people you’re meeting. Don’t think about what you’re going to say next, don’t worry about who else is in the room, and don’t stare off into space. Be present and be engaged in the conversation and listen to what is being said. A conversation is a two-way street: you need to be involved even if you’re not the one speaking.
4) We live in a world of large networks with few degrees of separation. This means that in no time at all, you will likely meet someone who knows someone else you know. It’s important to remember to be mindful, respectful, and kind to everyone you meet. Sometimes you never know if that person you’re talking to is going to be sitting in the cubicle next to you in a few months or a future employer down the road who can help or hinder your career goals.
If you go into your next event with these simple tips in mind, I am confident that you’ll come out of it with a pleasant, enjoyable, and valuable networking experience! And of course it goes without saying that if you see me out and about, please come say hi!!