It’s the end of the work day. You close down your computer with dread because you have to go to a networking event. An evening filled with people you don’t know, or only know very minimally, in which you’ll be expected to carry on conversations without looking as awkward or uncomfortable as you feel.
If you can relate, then you and I share a secret. Networking does not come naturally for me. It doesn’t to many people. However, there are those who thrive on it and pursue it like an art form. I always envy people who can pick up a conversation with a shy person for 15 minutes, making them feel as if they’re best friends. The second person then raves about the conversation and consequently the fabulous personality of the more gregarious one.
Why is networking important? Why must we push ourselves out of our comfort zone for the sake of conversation? I’ll tell you why: because the world is rapidly moving in a faceless, digital direction at warp speed. Transactions can be easily completed without a single conversation between buyer and seller. Each hopes the other is trustworthy enough to follow through with the agreement. They wait with bated breath and an arsenal of Maalox until the transaction is smoothly completed before releasing that sigh of relief.
Now if you had a choice between purchasing a product or service from a faceless company you don’t know much about or a person you’ve had conversations with, who are you going to pick? You’ll pick the source you know, every time. Because you trust them in some way. Maybe your business partner referred them. Maybe you interacted with them yourself. Or maybe the overriding message of their reviews (whether online or in person) is positive.
Networking is like a spiderweb, with relationships spun bigger and bigger based on the effort you put in and the quality you build. Networking starts in your local region, meeting those in your service area whom you can directly impact. From there, the reach is limitless. The stronger the relationships you build, the more you will be referred. The key is to be genuine and sincere. Most people can smell a fake a mile off, and this will affect your connections just as widely – but negatively.
Throughout my career I’ve heard multiple speakers on the topic of trust, character and business etiquette. All have added profound advice and tips to my knowledge base of proper networking etiquette. Here are some tips I hope you’ll find useful.
1. You never have a second chance to make a first impression. What does your style say about you? Be cognizant of your appearance and the image you want to portray.
2. Be consistent. Act the way you want to be perceived 100 percent of the time. If you act differently in different settings, you will alienate your audience and they will wonder which is the real you.
3. Listen, listen, listen. When you genuinely care about others it will be much easier to remember their names and know who they are next time you run into them. Send a brief note of appreciation after your first meeting to help solidify them in your mind – an added bonus is that this small action will help them remember you, too.
4. Be prepared. For those who struggle with making conversation, be prepared beforehand. Keep three topics handy to bring up with anyone and then … you guessed it, just listen. Be interested and find out about them. It’s amazing what we can learn when we stop talking.
There are many, many resources on the topic of networking and business etiquette. Your local Toastmaster’s Chapter can aid with speaking skills. Search the Web for your local business groups and forums. The Spokane Club, Launchpad and Spokane Society of Young Professionals are all great venues for meeting and greeting. Join an association, the chamber and Greater Spokane Incorporated. Participate in business events.
If, like me, you are inclined to find networking a challenge, know that the more you do it the easier it will be to walk into a room full of strangers and feel like you belong. And of course for kindred spirits out there, feel free to come find me. We’ll practice the art of networking together.