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!