When you read the word, what comes to mind for you? Joy? Excitement? Eagerness? Anticipation?
Or would you rather get a root canal than go to another networking event swarming with people focused on self-promotion and selling?
I recently attended a networking luncheon with the intention of learning more about the topic being shared as well as meeting some people I could get to know better at one-to-one meetings in the coming weeks. I accomplished my first goal but can’t say I’m satisfied with my progress toward the second.
When the speaker finished his presentation and all attendees had the opportunity to introduce themselves, open networking began. The man sitting directly across from me had piqued my interest in his introduction so I started a conversation with him to learn more about him and his business.
About two minutes into our conversation, a CPA interrupted to provide us with his business card and ask the man a few questions. This was followed by the CPA’s friend who snuck in business cards and the recommendation for us to contact her for all of our insurance needs. A short time later, a woman who seemed to be skipping around the long table began dealing out her business cards like we were in a poker game.
Analyzing My Networking Experience
When I left the luncheon, I reflected on what I could have done better because the interruptions hadn’t felt good to me. Perhaps my conversation with the man across from me was too lengthy. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to spend more than a minute or two with the attendees I wanted to connect with. Was I in the wrong here, or had the Negativity of Networking simply occurred?
Networking gets a bad rap because of situations such as the one I just described. Interactions which lack authenticity and genuine connectivity don’t make us feel good and rarely translate to a relationship of any kind, including any that involves opening your wallet.
Would I really want to get my taxes done by CPA Interrupter? Was I going to rush out to get an insurance quote because I had a stranger’s business card? Of course not. And what business was the card-dealing woman even promoting? Not sure. Her card is lost at the bottom of my purse.
My time and their time won’t result in a return on investment.
Thinking of Time in Terms of ROI
No one wakes up in the morning wondering how to waste time that day. We all want to make the best use of the 24 hours we are given, and ideally, we’d be spending at least some of that time making genuine connections with others. Therefore, the choice to attend a networking event should be made with goals in mind for making authentic, solid connections. Fostering authentic, solid connections is how you find referral partners, customers, and business friends.
How do you do that in a networking environment? Walk into every networking situation with a few action-oriented goals. Here are a few I commit to:
1. Be willing to listen.
I’ve improved my listening skills over the past few years because I’ve made a conscious effort to do so. Whether at a networking event, a one-to-one meeting, a client coaching session, or a social event, I begin conversations by asking about the other person. I genuinely want to learn about other people—how they earn their living, their why for doing what they do, anything they’d like to share about their family, etc. I ask questions; I listen to answers; and I connect with people much more easily than when I used to want “the floor” to do more of the talking.
2. Be ready to show you care.
When listening to others, I tune in to my body language and what it might be saying to them. Eye contact—appropriate eye contact—is at the top of the list. We’ve probably all met people who got the memo about the importance of good eye contact, and then we feel uneasy when they lock their eyes on ours and never blink! Not much of a connection is made in those cases, and listening skills go down the drain.
My “I care” mindset continues with smiling, nodding, turning my body toward the other person, and even leaning in when the person says something I want to know more about. It’s all about helping others feel understood.
In his article, Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. says, “Feeling understood is in many ways tantamount to feeling socially recognized, or ‘endorsed.’ Even nonverbally, another’s physical or facial reactions to something you’ve shared can be most comforting.”
3. Be confident from the inside out.
Being willing to listen and being willing to show we care are both about putting other people first. Being confident from the inside out, however, is about putting ourselves first.
I used to be the person who was uneasy and awkward at networking events. On the inside, I would tell myself I didn’t have much to add especially when others were more knowledgeable than me, more educated than me, more [fill in the blank] than me. Easy to see why I had trouble making authentic connections, right? Now I use affirmations on my way to networking events to remind myself of my strengths and talents. That simple act helps build up this introvert for much greater networking success.
Networking is a necessary component for most business owners and leaders. And when our ultimate goal is to make authentic connections, it becomes much more enjoyable than that root canal!