The date was March 14, 2013. I was doing some development work for a non-profit theatre company in the Hudson Valley, and we had expressed interest in joining our county’s Chamber of Commerce. On that day, I was invited to a mixer at a restaurant down the street from our theatre, so I put on my new Calvin Klein suit and headed over. When I walked through the door, a feeling came over me that I didn’t think would.
It was nervousness. I had never seen so many important-looking businesspeople in one room in my entire life, many of whom were probably a hundred times more established, experienced, and credible as I was, and none of whom I knew personally. That is, none I knew yet. But my other fear was that I would meet somebody and awkwardly stumble and make a fool of myself and misrepresent my company and position myself for negative judgement, and then a negative reputation of me would spread like brush fire and no one would want to talk to me again, let alone work with me.
Eventually I found my footing and assimilated very nicely into the group. So all of those worries were for naught. And now I’m going to tell you that you can achieve this assimilation just as easily if you’re at a business function.
Now, I understand that some people are not “people people”, nor are they ones for small talk. And that’s fine. But they don’t need to be afraid of meeting new people, nor do they have to dislike it. I personally love going out and expanding my network with new people around my business community. There’s something interesting about everybody, be it their job, company, hobbies, whatever it might be. Good conversation is an art, and it may seem difficult to master at first, but the basis of it is just maintaining a genuine interest in the other person and what they have to share with you. From a business standpoint, however, it’s important to keep certain things in mind if you want to build a network.
Here are some things I’ve learned from my experiences in business-oriented social settings.
1. First off, don’t be afraid to just walk up to someone and introduce yourself. Or if you make eye contact with a person, to just introduce yourself. It’s only awkward if you think it’s awkward, and how would you know if someone “disapproves” of you doing it unless he explicitly tells you? One important principle of the networking process is to have the courage of your convictions. Know who you are, why you’re in the room, what you want out of an interaction with someone, and what you may have that’s of value to offer to him. Confidence is a virtue.
2. Make a firm handshake while looking the person in the eye and smiling. The smile is always key.
3. Ask what he does, if you don’t already know. If you don’t find what he does interesting, don’t worry. You’ll have other opportunities to connect with him. But if it is interesting to you, you’re golden. Maybe you know someone at his workplace, in which case you should definitely drop the name. Then he won’t see you as a stranger anymore, and the relationship has begun.
4. At this point, the conversation could go in a couple different directions. If it takes a personal turn, indulge your conversation partner by listening to him and offering your own personal anecdotes about family, hobbies, education, etc. If you remain focused on business, talk about what you’re doing now in your current position, what you enjoy about it, and your professional goals.
5. Then turn the conversation on him a bit. Ask your partner what he does in his business and if he’s noticed any industry trends. To make the chat a little more personal, discuss how his year has been going so far, what he’d like to accomplish, and if he’s looking for prospects. If he is, tell him you’ll keep your eyes and ears open, but ask if he’s looking for specific types of people. This lets him know you’re invested in his success, which solidifies your relationship. And in the long run, if you’ve helped him a few times, he’ll definitely do all he can to reciprocate.
6. Know that other people in the room are probably just as nervous as you. You don’t have to worry about sticking out like a sore thumb. You’ll be great if you just be yourself, and don’t doubt for a second your strengths or your outward appearance. Good things will happen for you. They did for me. So go get ‘em, all-star.
For more insights on networking, I highly recommend Bob Burg’s Endless Referrals: Network Your Everyday Contacts Into Sales (3rd ed., New York: McGraw-Hill). My fifth tip is adapted from his ideas, and he has many more valuable ones if you pick up his book.
I hope you’re now fortified to go out and network with a little more ease. If you ever want to continue the conversation, feel free to follow this blog and follow me on Twitter at @HeyNickNappo. And if there’s something you want me to discuss on my blog, drop me a line. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.
Next week I’ll do my Olympic Commercial recap, as promised. Hope to see you then! And Happy
Singles Awareness Valentine’s Day!