I was recently honored to be among a group of people who were invited to speak at a marketing summit hosted by the Greater August Regional Chamber of Commerce in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. The topic I was asked to speak on was self-promotion and networking. As I was preparing for the presentation, I did some research and watched Brene Brown's A Call to Courage video on Netflix. My research on networking and the Netflix video contained a similar message...creating authentic relationships, which is what self-promotion and networking should be about, requires a great deal of vulnerability and thus takes a lot of courage.
I began my presentation by asking for a show of hands from the folks in the room who felt completely at ease meeting new people in networking situations. Only a few hands went up.
Networking, like giving a speech or a presentation, can be uncomfortable and maybe even painful for some people. On the surface, the idea of networking seems like it would be easy, but in fact is isn't, because networking requires us to do some things that don't come naturally to us. Effective networking requires us to think of and put other folks needs before our own. As humans, we are a pretty self-involved species and we are often thinking our our own needs first, we are hard-wired to do so, and yet we thrive as a species by creating human connections and that is what networking is all about.
I shared with the group some of the most critical networking strategies that I have learned and practiced over the years and that you can learn and practice as well in order become more at ease and effective in self-promotion and networking. They included:
LET GO OF FEAR.
The secret to letting go of any fear is doing the opposite of what you instinctively desire to do. Instead of running away from meeting new people put your hand out and introduce yourself. Yes, there is vulnerability involved in doing this but success in any field, and especially in business, is about working with people. Don't be afraid of making connections.
Contrary to popular belief, human beings cannot multitask. We are capable of handling a number of serial tasks in rapid succession, or mixing automatic tasks with those that are not so automatic - that's it. You just can't effectively attend to two things at once - even the superficially automatic ones. Focus on the person in front of you with your whole self. Learn what makes them tick. Ask them questions. Listen to their answers. Observe their actions.
If you truly want to be remarkable you must first learn how to be yourself; this means living authentically with a deep sense of who you are and what you have to offer. Let people see who you really are – that is who they want to do business with.
LISTEN MORE THAN YOU SPEAK.
The person who speaks least benefits most and the person who speaks most benefits least. Practice real listening, where you focus on what the other person is saying and take it in, instead of planning the brilliant thing you'll say the moment the other person finishes speaking.
GIVE, GIVE, GIVE.
Networking does not need to feel transactional. Of course with any relationship, there is a cycle of giving and receiving but if you lead with taking, it will turn people off. People who give to their networks organically reap benefits. Focusing on giving vs. getting is a much more empowered way to think about your career: the focus is shifted to the many gifts you have to offer the world. The true currency of networking lies in generosity.
THINK LONG-TERM VS. SHORT TERM.
The process of building a relationship doesn't stop after you have collected a business card. In fact, every relationship whether personal or professional builds gradually over time and requires a significant investment of time, money, and talent. Don’t rush or push your agenda. Take your time to get to know the needs and preferences of the person you are connecting with.
DON'T USE GOSSIP AS CURRENCY.
If you want to show up in your relationships in a radically authentic way, you can start by changing your relationship to gossip. There aren't too many of us who haven't used gossip as currency at some point in time. However, in networking, participating in gossip can derail your career. Being an industry insider is great, spreading the information you have, not so much!
DON'T ALLOW OR CREATE TIME MONOPOLIZATION
Know when to wrap up a conversation and move on. It can feel awkward to exit a conversation, especially when either you or the other person wants to keep the converesation going. However, people go to networking events to build genuine connections with a number of new people and you/they could miss out on other great opportunities. It's perfectly acceptable to wrap up your conversation by thanking the person for their time and letting them know that you enjoyed meeting them.
Introduce others to people they would enjoy or will benefit from knowing. This is a winning strategy for everyone involved because the people you connect benefit from knowing each other and feel grateful towards you for bringing them together.
Have a system in place for following up with new contacts. If you struggle with following up, the best approach is to think of your follow-ups with a spirit of generosity. Continue to focus on giving. Your goal is not to follow up with people you met because you want to get something from them; follow up so you can help them.
DITCH THE ELEVATOR PITCH.
Context matters. Relying on a one-size-fits-all description of your business means missing an opportunity to engage people rather than just speaking at them. Instead of blasting out your script, first show that you're curious about the person you are speaking with. Ask them about themselves, what they do, what they struggle with.
We all thrive with genuine human connection. Learn to enjoy making the connections with other people in ways that feel authentic to you!
Now its time to go practice some of these strategies. Perfect practice makes perfect, and personal connections lead to business. Entrepreneurs who implement these and other strategies into their networking efforts get a lot more business than their competition. Go have fun, add value, and make some genuine long-term connections!