There are so many women who tell me how much they hate networking. They will actively avoid it. When asked to attend either a network event or a Conference, their heart fills with dread and they will try their best to send someone else.
When they have no alternative but to attend, then they will mitigate the pain. They may arrive late (to avoid that walking into a room when I don’t know anyone feeling). Often perhaps they may arrive at the Conference early. They can then do some work – find a quiet corner to pull out the laptop…. Many will come with a work colleague and that’s the best, because they don’t have to talk to anyone else.
Why on earth do so many women feel this way about Conference networking? And where do these feelings come from?
The Pain of Networking. Well, I have a few ideas.
- The dread of being pounced upon. Yes, I’ve been to a few networking events in my time when fellow delegates have stood in front of me, talked at me, given me their card and walked on. What??? How is that ever about building a relationship?
- Walking into an event when we don’t know anybody. It’s human instinct to want to protect ourselves from perceived danger. We are in a state of high alert, our adrenaline is heightened, and this makes us feel physically uneasy and at times quite anxious. Who would ever choose to put themselves in that state if they could help it?
- Not knowing what to say. Because of our heightened senses, making conversation with a stranger requires even more energy. And after the preliminary niceties, then what?
- Being bored. What if the event is a bit boring?! I’ve been there. Even worse when I’ve not been stimulated and others around me seem to find it incredibly interesting. Now I feel I’ve wasted my time.
Okay, so let’s turn this on its head. Networking is a critical leadership skill. The higher up the ladder
you go, the more you are going to be expected to attend events, Conferences, dinners and so on.
Shift Your Perspective
Let me give you a few tips for how to shift your perspective on networking and how you might even start to enjoy it.
- First up, let’s get clear on the benefits of networking. There’s a terrific Harvard Business Review article entitled ‘How Leaders Create and Use Networks’ (there’s a link here: https://hbr.org/2007/01/how-leaders-create-and-use-networks). In the article, the author talks about how leaders need three different types of networks to help them succeed. In addition to a day to day network, there’s a personal growth network and a strategic network. That’s three networks to nurture and grow. How will you be able ever be able to create a multi-tiered network that if you never go to events and meet people?
- I’m sorry to announce that Google will never replace the wonderful dance of conversation. Yes, you might, intellectually, find the answer to your pressing questions. But there’s nothing quite like the emotional connection of hearing someone else’s experience, ideas or perspective.
- Most people, in my experience, love to help another person. It’s in our psyche. If we like you, we want to help you. Period. And that help can be as small as offering a suggestion or idea to as big as introducing someone to someone you know that can help. Get out of your own way. Oh, how I love this phrase! Getting out of our own way so we can focus on the needs and interests of others. That’s the very best mindset to get into.
- Be curious. Instead of worrying about what you are going to say to someone, start wondering what you can learn. Be prepared before you attend an event or Conference. Find out, if you can, who might be attending, what you want to learn, what you might like to ask the speakers, etc.
Overcome Your Fears
Finally, how do you overcome those dreaded fears of Conference networking? Let’s have a look at a
few top tips.
- Prepare a few opening questions. It really takes the pressure off if you have a few questions up your sleeve. Here are a few I frequently use: What’s brought you here today? How far have you travelled? How was your journey? What do you do / get up to at work? What are you looking forward to from the day?
- Prepare what you are going to say. When someone asks you these questions, how are you going to respond? Think about how to show yourself up in the best light? Don’t keep yourself small.
- Find the common ground. It’s great when we can find connection in the conversation. Often you may have shared contacts. Or perhaps you live in a similar area. Or do similar jobs. We are more likely to help someone else if we can connect with them on some level.
- When you’ve exhausted the conversation, move on. It’s expected as that’s what networking is. It’s not rude. All you need to say is something along the lines of, ‘It’s been lovely talking with you, I’m going to continue mingling and look forward to staying in touch’.
- Please only exchange cards if you are going to stay in touch. Find a reason to exchange cards. Are you going to meet again? How are you going to help each other? Be clear and specific and make a note on the card – otherwise it’s highly likely you will forget who the other person was.
- Even better, connect on LinkedIn. There’s a great bit of tech on the phone app that lets you scan each other’s LinkedIn profile, so you automatically connect with one another!
- And finally follow up. Please don’t let the connection go cold. If you agreed to get in touch, do it.
Conference networking is an excellent opportunity to meet new people and find new connections. Who knows where the connection may lead? Be prepared. Be curious. Find the connection. Offer up something. Stay in touch. That’s it!
“The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” — Keith Ferrazzi