Networking Deconstructed: Be Awesome, Not Awkward (Part 1)
Graduate from cowering in the corner to working the room with relative ease through some process deconstruction.
You’re Not “Born With It”
For a long time I was terrified of networking events. Literally cowering in the corner, (or — embarrassingly — better still — cowering in the bathrooms), just wishing it to be over. I had no idea what to do. This was not something I had been taught in school! In fact, I know of very few people who have been explicitly taught interpersonal skills. We are assumed to be “born with it” or just expected to pick it up as we go. The good news is, interpersonal skills can be learned.
I graduated from cowering in the corner through to working the room with relative ease through some process deconstruction combined with some good old brute force practice.
Real Two Way Relationships
Successful networking isn’t about getting something! Aim to create real two way relationships, where you can find ways to be of service to each other.
Successful networking isn’t necessarily about flamboyantly meeting the entire room! Even now after years of practice, I only really aim to build rapport and connect with 4or 5 people. If you’re new to it, start with one.
It’s considered by some to be inappropriate to talk about interpersonal skills, but let’s start to break that taboo. Here’s the overall basic process that has worked for me in order to more successfully approach, converse, and close.
Prime Yourself As You Arrive
As you are arriving at the venue, bring to mind a professional social interaction you had that went well. Reflecting on it for a moment primes yourself right (more about priming). It also helps to remember that almost everyone is nervous to some degree about meeting new people for the first time.
As tempting as it may be to hide in the corner, consider positioning yourself in a high traffic area such as near the door, the food or the bar.
Prime Yourself As You Approach
Bring to mind warm positive feelings as you are about to approach someone. This will setup the best body language/facial expression for your first impression. (More about priming)
When nervous, a lot of us forget to smile. Smiling is amazingly disarming and is critical to making a good first impression.
Greet & Shake Hands
Meet the other person’s handshake strength. Full palm to palm, webbing to webbing grip with hand facing at 90 degrees (other angles communicate submission or dominance).
Make Eye Contact
Give 2–3 seconds of good eye contact while smiling. Eye contact creates direct right-hemisphere-to-right-hemisphere brain communication — leading to emotional states synchronizing in the two brains. Give a warm smile with eye contact to connect deeply.
Give Your Name
Clearly articulate your name. If you have a name that others find difficult to pronounce, either spell it, or tell them something that it “sounds like”.
Ask For Their Name
Ask them their name if they don’t provide it, and remember it so you can use it later in conversation. Take your time, and repeat their name aloud back to them to make sure you have it correct.
“Show interest in others, and others will show interest in you.”― Dale Carnegie
Ask high quality open ended questions to get people talking. Closed ended questions like “Are you having a good night?” don’t give the person much to talk about, whereas open ended questions allow much broader comment.
A couple of my favourites open ended questions are
What brought you here…? How did you get involved in…? What do you love about…? What is your biggest challenge with…?
For even more impact, use the person’s name when asking the questions.
Be interested not interesting.
Most of the time everyone’s favourite topic of conversation is — themselves! So good listening is crucial.
Most people spend entire conversations “reloading” — just thinking about what they are going to say next instead of actually being present and purely listening.
Most people spend entire conversations “reloading” — just thinking about what they are going to say next instead of actually being present and purely listening. It’s amazing how rarely you meet good listeners. Work on doing less and less “reloading”, and becoming more and more present. Aim for the other person to be doing more than half of the talking (as fueled by your quality questions and your active listening) to make a good impression.
Share relevant and brief stories.
Have you ever heard someone complaining that someone’s stories are too brief? No!
Most go on too long. Just be brief.
Let them know you appreciate their time (and smile again). You could use something direct like “It’s been a pleasure to meet you”, to signal you are closing the conversation and moving along, while still being clear that you’ve enjoyed the interaction.
If you want to stay in touch, be clear about how you propose that to happen. Take charge of this step, maybe you hand over a business card and suggest you’ll email to setup a time to talk again next week. Personally I am paperless and a GTD obsessive, so I whip out my phone and make a connection by sending an email or connecting on LinkedIn. Whatever your approach, know what it is ahead of time.
You might also want to send a follow up communication during the week acknowledging it was good to meet them.
You don’t have to be perfect. Interpersonal skills are always a work in progress. But if you can identify one or two areas that might be where you have the most opportunity for improvement, and practice these, it will be challenging, but definitely rewarding. Good luck!