“My intention is to meet five people at this function who I really connect with and that two of them eventually become clients.” My friend was impressed while somewhat doubtful of my declaration. My actual success that night was that I met ten people with whom I connected, but I didn’t find the opening to give all of them my business card. It’s not that I’m shy – by nature I’m quite the extrovert. But I have a stigma about networking – I don’t want to be viewed as someone who only introduces herself in order to plug her services and hand out business cards. It’s a limiting stigma, one that would best be left at home with the bad breath, but I want to connect with people on a level that we both feel acknowledged, respected and heard. It’s when we have those connections with people that our networks become stronger. But my concerns are valid and I know I’m not the only fresh-breathed stigma-minded networker out there.
It’s NOT About Selling Yourself
Networking is not limited to selling oneself – in fact that outlook is its demise. There is depth to networking that goes beyond meeting people. It’s about connecting, building relationships and listening to the pulse of individuals who make up your network. It’s about listening and the art of inquiry. It’s about asking questions, providing answers and being engaged such that the person you’re talking to experiences being heard, respected and acknowledged. There is power in providing that experience for others. In the words of Maya Angelou, “People will not remember what you said or what you did; people will remember how you made them feel.”
The old adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is still the tall and solid wise oak of networking. Although that saying has been spun differently over the years and in different industries, it continues to be a networking motivator. Networking affects growth in careers, businesses, campaigns and whatever other groups and efforts that goes beyond the individual’s forward progress. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a network to move us forward.
We all know the appropriate actions for successful networking: meet people in person, make eye-contact, have a firm handshake, ask questions and follow through with statements of interest, ask for contact info and follow up with a thank you communication and request for further contact with that person or a reference for a future contact with another they recommend, etc., etc. In short, stay in communication and be consistent with your leadership brand.
The Art of Connection Takes Practice
What I encourage my clients to do is to practice the art of connection as a part of their brand. You need to connect with people to instigate a meaningful relationship. Connecting is not only a catalyst to strong networking relationships; it’s also an expression of who you are for yourself, that person and the community or communities you represent. In other words, how you connect with people will make the biggest impact on building a relationship. The people you meet will always remember how you made them feel, not necessarily what you do or what witty comments you made during your conversation with them.
How do you connect with someone and make a lasting impression? It’s actually easy and with a bit of practice quite fun. In fact, when you begin to feel comfortable with a more intimate form of connection with people, you’ll discover a new level of enthusiasm when entering a networking opportunity.
These 5 Ways Can Help You Beat the Networking Stigma
Below are a few coaching tips on how to connect, build lasting relationships and brand yourself as a leader who people remember as someone who made them feel acknowledged, respected and heard:
Listen, listen, listen – If you are aware of the monologue in your head, you are not present to the dialogue in front of you. For example, if you are practicing your elevator speech while you are talking with someone, you will miss plenty of opportunities to authentically connect with this person because you will not hear what they are saying.
Ask questions and inquire into their interests and activities – There is power in asking a great question that came from having listened. Often you will find that by listening closely and being present, you’ll find yourself becoming curious about what this person is talking about; what they do; and who they are. Curiosity begets questions begets inquiry begets connection begets stronger networks.
Find a natural opening to share about yourself – When you are listening and coming from a place of being connected you will find many natural openings for sharing about yourself. For example, if you’re talking to someone who builds greenhouses for a living and you are a webinar facilitator a natural opening would be to say, “Hey I have an idea. We could create something great by teaming your knowledge on how to build a green house by developing a webinar that people pay to listen to online.” This opens up a new conversation, complements their skills and demonstrates that you were listening and connecting ideas on how to move this person and your relationship with them forward.
Be sincerely interested in what YOU ARE saying – Be excited about whom you are and what you are up to – confidence is a great branding tool. If you have a tendency to downplay what you do, who you are and how you present yourself, the people listening to you may not be inspired to listen or connect. This isn’t license to be arrogant, demonstrative or patronizing, it’s an opportunity to enthusiastically share with someone about what you have to offer as a person and as a network relationship. The more authentically, humbly and confidently you share the more drawn to you they will be.
Follow-up quickly with someone you connected with and especially mention the part of the connection that struck you most – If the person said something that interested you about themselves or what they do, mention that in your follow up communication. For example, “Cheryl, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting you at the Women of Influence Awards banquet and was quite impressed with the book you are writing. I would love the opportunity to have lunch with you soon and learn more about what inspired you to write about that topic.”
Network with intentionality, become known as someone who listens, acknowledges and connects with people – People seek out those who are leaders. Be an intentional leader; humble, engaged, interested and in demonstrated inquiry with the people with whom you are connecting.
Building relationships is about listening, talking and communicating. It’s an important part of your brand and who you are for not only the people with whom you network, but with everyone in your communities. The real key to all of this? When you’re intimately connected with yourself, you’re connected to everybody.