Updated: Nov 17, 2019
Imagine this: you’ve registered to attend an event where you know your network will be or perhaps the event’s focus is in line with that of your business. You’ll know a few attendees but expect there will also be people you don’t know. It’s an event you want to go to, given the speaker or the focus. What’s running through your mind as you are rushing to get to the event? Openness? Or dread?
Networking has been part of my work for many years. Even with all my practice, there’s always an unknown, unexpected factor, and the awkwardness that goes along with it. That feeling of awkwardness that we often get while networking could very well lead to a certain dread of those events.
Time to network
One of my favourite networking stories is from a Toronto event. It was a small gathering in one of the group members’ homes; I was invited by a mutual connection and she was the only person I knew. It was a lovely evening. At the end of the evening I was standing alone getting ready to call a cab when another guest I had spent time with asked me, “What hotel are you staying at?” When I told her, she offered to drive me to the hotel. I accepted. On that drive a friendship formed. We continue to stay in touch, continue to network and to help one another. I am so grateful to have her in my network. She stepped in.
I attended an event last night. It was a new event where sponsors invited aspiring leaders for a conversation on leadership and building a community to help one another. There were many people I didn’t know. Every networking event has different moments, both good and bad. My experience last night has me thinking about a couple themes.
One of my stand out memories from last night’s event is being part of a conversation with a group that were all definitely part of the experienced leaders segment in the room, two of them being CEOs. As we chatted a young woman stepped into our group and said, “I’d like to join you.” Our attention shifted to the energy and big smile she brought with her entrance. She introduced herself and the conversation flew from there. She was an extrovert and was obviously experienced with starting a conversation. I’m very glad she stepped in. She didn’t hesitate. She didn’t make assumptions about the group she was joining. I so enjoyed my time with her.
I stepped in differently at the event. I was speaking with a group of my business friends, all well-known leaders in the business community. Out of the corner of my eye I caught someone I knew who was alone and looking around with that “what now” look on her face. She was close, so I called her name and brought her into the group. I knew she didn’t know the group I was speaking with. Once introduced, the conversation flowed easily and she now has a follow-up connection with one of the group members. I was able to ease plus enhance her entrance to an in-progress discussion.
Both those situations had moments of awkwardness, in the head and in the experience. If a decision to step in hadn’t been made, new connections and new conversations wouldn’t have happened. What is now, wouldn’t be a reality. What was created were new relationships, new perspectives and reasons for a conversation to be continued at another time.
The other side of networking is for people who are hesitant or not as extroverted to walk into a conversation. I was raised by a strong and very kind woman who taught us early on to watch for those standing alone in social situations. While it may be seen as rude to be scanning the room, there is absolutely nothing worse than standing alone at a networking event. Do what you wish others would do for you in networking moments.
Here are 6 practices for your best networking:
Mindset: How do you see the opportunity of networking, connecting with new people and knowing not all conversations will be great? Embrace a growth mindset and you’ll be surprised by what can happen.
Awkwardness: It’s part of how relationships start. It’s a necessary step to start the conversation and figure out how you connect. Find comfort in your discomfort, as it will always be there when doing new things and building new relationships.
First impressions: Announce yourself, introduce yourself, speak up and speak strongly.
Getting started: Always the hardest place. Being armed with a couple great questions will get the conversation going.
Follow-up: Find out how you are connected and how you can help them. This gives you a reason for another connect.
Please step in: Step in with your personal brand. With your leadership profile. Embrace your discomfort. Be open to new contacts and relationships. Be a connector.
Give and take
Don’t be afraid to stop the conversation and welcome newcomers. Be flexible. My own experience at the same event is that when I walked up to a couple conversations, the delay in being included in conversation felt like forever. In reality it really wasn’t but I was ready to get out of that first moment of conversation joining!
You may be thinking, what if I am in the middle of a really great conversation and I was going to get a follow-up from it or it was information that was important to me? I am all about the giving as there can be a tendency to want to be a taker. If there’s a conversation to be continued, what a great follow-up opportunity. Even better, have the conversation one-on-one without being interrupted.
Please do step in a conversation and introduce yourself. Please do reach out and include that person that is not part of a group. Please do embrace those uncomfortable moments of networking.
Many of my best relationships started with networking. My discomfort is always eliminated and forgotten by that one person and one new relationship that begins through networking and connecting.
Your best relationships
all began with a first meeting.
Be open to new firsts.
Networking is what you make it.
My final tip and the way to find me at the next networking event: I’ll be one of the first to arrive. There are less people at the start of an event, and that’s when people are most open to new introductions. We can meet and go our separate ways and if we happen to find ourselves without an anchor, we can look for one another again.
Lisa W. Haydon is the President and Founder of Pivotal Coaching Inc. She left her comfortable corporate career several years ago to follow her passion of helping people realize their potential and companies to realize high performance. Lisa is a growth focused entrepreneur, leadership development consultant and certified executive coach. To her clients, she brings business experience with prestigious corporations and continuous education. Lisa’s work in business operations and B to B sales expertise allowed her to create a differentiated coaching model and client experience. Lisa and Pivotal Coaching are known for 1:1 and cohort Programs in leadership development and sales effectiveness.