Friday, August 27, 2010

Self-conscious Networking

Martin's networking style certainly
got him noticed!
See if you recognize yourself in this scenario.

When I first started attending networking events, I always felt unsure of myself. I worried about what people would think of me. Would they know that I was a complete fraud and without any confidence at all? What would they think of what I was wearing? What would I say to them?

Oh, my goodness.

By the time I actually walked through the door (usually late), I was so keyed up that I was just about ready to explode. Then some poor slob would ask me about what I did for a living and (after taking a deep breath) I was off to the races. I would talk about what I did, who I did it for, what my successes were, what I could do for them, the colors we used, the subcontractors I could call on, the folks for whom I had been a subcontractor, what kind of car I drove, where I lived, and where I had gone on vacation last summer.

Then I took a second breath.

OK, so maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit -- though if you ask that poor slob, it might not be by much -- but you get my drift. My own self-conscious self-involvement caused me to focus on my own needs and not on those of my conversational partner. Now, since you are an accomplished networker already, you may have no idea what I'm talking about. In that case, you might want to pass this advice along to someone who needs it, but here are a few things to remember.

  1. Regarding your outfit, no one cares. Of course it should be clean, neat, and completely buttoned up, we still want to make a good first impression, after all. Beyond that, though, just leave the gorilla costume at home, and you will be fine.
  2. Regarding what they think of you, they don't. In general, most people you meet are more concerned with what you think of them. If you walk in and assume that everyone is just as terrified as you are, you won't be far from the truth. Just don't spook them and you should all be fine.
  3. Regarding what you should say to them, as little as possible. Your best conversations at a networking event will involve you speaking for around thirty percent of the time, and a lot of that will be questions you are asking them. Asking questions and focusing on listening to their answers will save you from talking their ear off. Remember, no one wants to walk away from you if they are the ones talking.
Remember at a networking event, no matter what you would like to think, the conversation should never be about you. Make them the center of attention by just asking questions (which are a lot easier to prepare than any long speeches about you and what you do). If you can do that, you'll be surprised at the number of people who will be interested in getting together to continue the conversation later.

Where they will be a lot more likely to be actually interested in what you have to say.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Greg! So glad you're helping shed light on the fact that networking is about connecting, not about YOU and your needs. I even started to refer to my networking efforts as "community service."

    And, since you're speaking my language, I thought I'd share some more food for thought with you and the other reluctant networkers out there. These myths originally appeared on my blog:

    There are quite a few myths around the activity of networking, and because having a quality network really does matter, and so many people are still reluctant networkers, I am going to attempt to debunk a few of the myths here:

    Myth #1: Networking means you’re looking to use people to achieve selfish goals, or opportunistically ask people for help.

    REALITY: The definition of the word network according to The Oxford Dictionary:

    nétwerk n. & v. a group of people who exchange information, contacts, and experience for professional or social purposes.

    Networking can therefore be defined as one’s efforts to create this group, and of course it can be done honestly and considerately.

    Myth #2: You have to be a born networker or a natural at it.

    REALITY: The skills needed to be an effective networker can be learned by anyone. Start by getting comfortable asking folks you meet, “So, what are you working on these days?” or, “What do you need help with right now?”

    Myth #3: You must have above average charisma to be a good networker.

    REALITY: You merely need to be thoughtful, sincere and genuinely helpful. You get offered a job or opportunities from people who are trusting of you. There IS a hidden job market out there, but you have to be willing to be open and giving to be part of it.

    Myth #4: You have to be a good talker or an overly chatty “schmoozer” to be a good networker.

    REALITY: The truth is it is almost the exact opposite. According to Guy Kawasaki, co-founder of Garage Technology Ventures, Forbes columnist, and author of the recently published, Reality Check, “The mark of a good conversationalist is not that you can talk a lot. The mark is that you can get others to talk a lot. Thus, good schmoozerʼs are good listeners, not good talkers.”

    You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.

    * Dale Carnegie

    So, in closing, why should you bother with networking?

    Just like you can never receive too many gifts at the holidays, you can never have too many contacts in your network. Being well-connected connotes success and influence — the kind of cachet every serious professional seeks to achieve.

    * Debra Davenport for Yahoo! HotJobs

    I hope these insights provide some helpful food for thought and encourage you further develop your own networking muscle. And, perhaps even more importantly, keep it flexible throughout your career.

    Sandy Jones-Kaminski, Author
    I'm at a Networking Event--Now What???