In my last blog we talked about WHY we Network. Let’s adjust ever so slightly and talk about HOW to get the most out of not only Networking at an event but anytime and anywhere we find ourselves.
Allow me to identify 3 best practices while Networking:
First…and I mean FIRST…Smile. Smile when you meet someone for the first time. I realize there are time where we just don't feel like it or we've had a bad day or...a multitude of other reasons. But greet new (and existing, for that matter) contacts with a smile. It is the quickest, easiest and least expensive way, BY FAR, to improve your appearance.
An authentic smile is a couple things: It’s inviting. When people see you smiling, even if it’s not at them, they are more inclined to feel welcomed to join a conversation. And that’s what we are looking for while we are networking, agreed?
It’s also encouraging. Have you ever walked up to someone new, even after being introduced, and the person doesn’t smile until after he/she meets you, or sometimes not at all? I cannot stand that! Don’t be that person. Be the person someone wants to get to know even before you meet.
And finally, smiling is a no shit way to improve your mood. It is scientifically proven that even if you are in a bad mood and you force an authentic smile, your happiness goes up and your stress level goes down. Anyone ever stressed walking into a Networking event?
Second, and you’ve read the word a couple times now. Practice authenticity. Being yourself is exactly who you should be. But, you must be the best version of yourself. Anything less is unacceptable. You owe it to yourself to be your best and to the people you will be meeting.
The easy part of this is when conversations are happening around things we know. However, while Networking, we are often around new people with different experiences. Nothing screams authenticity like showing a little humility.
Become a student, if even momentarily, and ask questions. Especially for the newcomers to the industry, take this opportunity to learn the lessons the storyteller learned without having to go through it. Networking is so much about learning from others, it’s absolutely crazy! Take the opportunity and use it for everything you can get!
Which leads me to the third practice, be interested NOT interesting. Which is to say, listen before you speak. Show interest in others. This can be tough because we want to share our story (It's what we know best and is easy to talk about). We will get our chance.
Spend time listening to others. Allow them to talk then ask follow up questions, then let them talk, and ask another follow up question, etc., etc. and so forth. And here’s the most important idea to this, listen then respond to what the other person is talking about. Don’t wait for them to stop talking so you can start. If that person is doing it right, they will then ask all about you. There’s your chance!
This reminds me of an excerpt from Devora Zack’s book “Networking for people who hate Networking.” She tells the story of meeting a gentleman at a Networking event and they speak for about 15 minutes, of which, she speaks for about 3. At the end of the discussion, they exchange cards and go on about their business.
In the near future, she got a follow up email from the same guy saying how much he enjoyed their conversation and how he was looking forward to referring her business. She let him talk, that’s what he needed, she then benefitted from being a fantastic listener. Nothing wrong with being a listener! You can learn way more that way.
Anyway, that does it. Smile, be authentic and be interested not interesting. Work at all three of these and you’ll find your time at the next Networking event, family gatherings, parties, etc. much more valuable, and because of that, much more fun!
So often I get asked, better said, told by my colleagues and people I meet that they don’t know what to say when networking. What they are assuming, sometimes mistakenly, is that people want to hear what they have to say. Now that sounds somewhat callous to identify but when we network, more times than not, we like to talk about what we know. And often, we know ourselves best. So we end up wanting to talk about ourselves (Ask an introvert and they’ll tell you that’s wrong. LOL) but overall many people fall into talking about themselves.
At some point, you will want to do that because that’s why you are networking. You want to get to know someone and want them to get to know you. However, you want to start off any networking conversation asking about them. Meaning, you don’t walk up to someone and start giving them your life story or even how your day went. You’re going to ask them... about them. And this is where I start to get the self-doubt statements and questions. “Craig, I’m not even sure what to ask somebody.” Or “Craig, I’m not sure what to say.” Or “I don’t even know what I’m doing here.” That list goes on and on. (I’ll get into some of the deeper issues going on here with those statements later. For now we’re going to stick with the question).
In other posts, authors will often a wide, varying, long list of questions for networking. I can appreciate that, however, I am a strong believer in the idea of analysis paralysis. So to combat that I’m going to give you...one. As you read that question, if it’s not something you can see yourself saying, that’s fine. Take it and put a different spin on it or use different words with the same message or take some of the words or use my ideas as a catalyst for your own. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s coming from you. And what I mean by that is that are you being genuinely interested in the person to whom you’re talking.
(Too often networkers get in their head that this is a professional relationship and I can’t ask personal questions. Bullshit. That’s where the relationships get built from. Don’t be afraid to actually get to know someone. They are not their job or their resume.)
My “go to” network building question? The ONE I keep in my back pocket?
“What has been the highlight of your day?” I asked this question for a number of reasons.
One of them is, if they’ve been in a bad mood and they’re coming into a networking event, I’m going to help them pull themselves out of that funk. By asking what the highlight was, it gives them a chance to reflect on their day and think about what did happen that was outstanding. It breaks a cycle of negative thinking. This allows them to have a totally different mindset for the remainder of that event or that coffee meeting or that one to one.
They get the chance to then be grateful. They may have forgotten that their kids were sick the day before and today they woke up healthy. They may have not hit the typical red lights on the way to work. They may have won a big contract at work but it got overrun by an overbearing boss. So many people will claim to have a bad day but, in actuality, it was just a bad five minutes they allowed to hijack the rest of the day. By asking what their highlight was allows them to take a minute and realize what good happen in their day.
(It’s not at “yes” or “no” answered, close-ended question. DO NOT START A CONVERSATION CLOSE-ENDED QUESTIONS.)
Finally, once they have identified their highlight, that makes them feel good. Then they associate that feeling with the person that “gave” them the feeling, and that puts a spotlight on... you! We want to be memorable when we’re networking. And putting that thought in someone’s head about you is a step in the right direction to building a great relationship!
Once the question has been asked, there are so many different ways to go with it from there. Again, this is going to open the door to getting to know someone personally, which is what you’re after. Please, for your sake and the sake of the person you’re meeting, don’t be robotic and don’t be “too professional“. If you’re at a networking event, so are they. LOL They are expecting to chat. And that’s what it is, chatting. It’s also the foundation of that new relationship. Who wants to start a relationship with someone who talks about having a shitty day at work. Break the cycle, get them grateful and make yourself look good during the process!
Thank you so much for your attention. What’s been the highlight of YOUR day?
This was a post I did for the Executive Protection Blog in Feb, 2018 regarding the Close Protection Conference held in Vegas in Dec, 2017. The content holds true regardless of the setting! Enjoy!
For those of you that attended the Close Protection Conference in Vegas a couple months ago had the opportunity to hear some world-class lectures and panels from some of the best in the business. Topics ranged from EP to disaster response to international cyber invasions. It was fascinating and INCREDIBLY informative. And the best part about it was, that after the speakers and panel members spoke, they hung around to chat and network!
Another topic that was discussed was the importance of networking in EP/Protection/Security. A couple of panel members spoke on it in The Business of EP panel. One panelist mentioned how networking was big for gaining new clients minus the cost of marketing and another how networking WITH his existing clients (read “customer service”) prolonged and secured future business.
Before we get to far, let me say that networking is seldom about what the other person can do for you. That gets overlooked. If one is a solid individual and performer, business and favor may follow but it is not WHY we network.
Here are a few reasons WHY we should network:
We should network to build relationships. But why should we build relationships? To get to know someone and let someone get to know you, if even only in a professional sense, can build credibility. This is where the business can happen. This is where I get a call in Vegas from an East Coast protector I’ve never met face to face (and still haven’t to this day) saying I was referred by a mutual contact that said I’m “the guy” in Vegas and can I help him. Turns out I couldn’t but, because my credibility came before our relationship, I directed him to someone else he never met and there was an instant level of trust. That’s how networking can work.
It can keep us current on the happenings of our chosen industry. EP in particular has many challenges potentially domestically and internationally every hour of every day. The ability to be able to offer intel on an incident or gather it easily from someone you’ve met and built a relationship with can be priceless. But it doesn’t end at international incidents. Anything industry specific or that greatly affects the industry (like maybe a CCW bill) can be shared quickly with and from trusted resources.
And finally, at least for this write up, networking can keep a group of like-minded professionals moving toward a common goal. Events such as the CPC are so valuable. It’s a chance to promote best practices, share lessons learned and offer reasons to continue to professionalize this or any industry.
Networking is not for the faint of heart. It’s not netsit or neteat or netdrink, its Network. Networking takes time. It takes time to build a network and it takes time to maintain it. But the time taken will definitely be worth it.
Thank you for your attention!