Let me start by pointing out that my general dislike of some things stems from fear of it, which is why I used to shy away from networking. In real life, I’m a very social person, but the feeling that I was always supposed to be selling something while socializing was uncomfortable to me. However, I am in sales (aren’t we all?) and have a large responsibility to grow our business, so naturally, I needed to get over it. Here’s how I did it.
I used to think of networking as only centrally focused on my job (government contracting), events where I was supposed to be learning about something specific, or meetings with clients or partners to work a deal. I’ve come to understand that conference rooms and reception halls aren’t the only places to successfully network. I learned that I could network while doing what I love and giving back to good causes. In doing so, I’ve made new connections and worked interesting deals while also being selfless. Now, it’s fun.
I’ve come to understand that conference rooms and reception halls aren’t the only places to successfully network
In my personal life, I am passionate about the future of the workforce and pour my time and energy into organizations that are preparing our nation’s youth for the “real world.” I was introduced to two organizations by my former and current CEOs. By utilizing relationships with people who have already figured this whole networking thing out (tip #1), I volunteered for and was asked to be on board advisory councils for both organizations. This, in turn, provided me with pathways to meet like-minded, high-powered individuals and a new platform to network.
If the thought of networking at lunches, dinners, and happy hours doesn’t excite you or is uncomfortable for you – take it to the next level and identify something you enjoy. Join a council or a volunteer organization and network while giving back. This tends to work best if the organization is centrally located to where you work or is tied to something that your company supports at a corporate level.
In any networking situation, here are a few tips to do it successfully:
Prepare. Know your purpose for attending beforehand. If it’s to meet with a specific person, do your research and come with questions for them (“Can you tell me more about your time in the military?” “What was the favorite country you visited while you were sailing around the world?” “How does it feel to have been the CEO for now 5 companies?”). If it’s to learn about a specific topic, write down your questions beforehand, and don’t leave until they are answered.
Follow-up. LinkedIn has made it so easy to connect and it only takes a minute or two. Send a thoughtful direct message or email to those that you met at the event and offer them one thing you learned from them or appreciated about your meeting them. If you met the right person, time is of the essence – don’t let 48 hours go by without reaching out and detailing next steps.
Practice. The more you practice, the easier effective networking becomes. Once I got out of my own way and started going to more events, of different kinds, and started recognizing more faces in the room, networking became more comfortable and rewarding – both personally and professionally.
Go alone or with a someone you know. This is a personal preference and something to consider before each event. I tend to lean too heavily on a colleague or friend when I attend events with someone else. So I had to get out of my comfort zone and go alone. This forced me to meet new people, and do more of the talking (hence, why being prepared was so important). However, bring a colleague if they will help seal a deal, help you meet more people, or cover more ground.
While COVID may have changed the landscape in which we network, it is still a necessary activity and will help you on your journey and path to success. Take the time to overcome your dislike and get out there, and please connect with me on LinkedIn!
WRITTEN BYChristine Cocrane