Friday, March 6, 2009

Workin' it

Last night I attended a networking event hosted by the LinkedIn group I belong to, LinkedColumbus. It is a known fact that I hate to network, but I decided to be brave and go.

To make the evening more tolerable, I had planned to meet a former coworker there, but either she didn't show up or I could not find her in the crowd (we're both vertically challenged, which is an additional hindrance). Over 400 people RSVP'd to attend last night's event, and I would say at least half that number were there during the hour and 15 minutes that I lasted before I ran screaming for the door (I'm being hyperbolic--I walked screaming for the door). It was loud. It was warm. It was crowded. It was a cash bar.

I was definitely outside my comfort zone. I'm not a terribly outgoing person, so approaching strangers is not my favorite thing to do. I tried, though . . . I struck up a few conversations, and spent the rest of my time trying to look approachable. I managed to hand out a few cards, and got a few as well. One gentleman even complimented my handwriting on my name tag.

What I did right:
  • I went!
  • I extended myself
  • I made eye contact, smiled, and tried to be approachable
  • I put not only my name but my company name on my name tag
What I could have done better:
  • I could have approached more people
  • I could have written my title (writer) on my name tag too--might have gotten more nibbles that way
So . . . am I glad I went? Yes, because it forced me to be more outgoing. And no, because I don't think I made enough connections--too many people! I think maybe a smaller event would have been better for me. Lesson learned.

For those of you who are more experienced and/or more comfortable networking, what's the best piece of advice you can give me for making my next networking event better?

5 comments:

Angie Ledbetter said...

You did great for your first voyage. Advice? Keep going. You'll have more familiar faces to approach and reconnect with. Definitely put Writer on your nametag!

Anthony Bailey said...

Hi Amie,

I agree with Angie, you did great for your first time. I do recommend you keep going out to networking events but I suggest you change your expectations and outlook first. Otherwise you will just keep experiencing the same outcome until you grow tired and stop networking altogether.

I see you went to the LinkedWorking event, from what I hear that event was roughly 300+ people. Try attending smaller networking groups first until you get more comfortable.

- I found a video for you that I think will help you relax more and feel more comfortable during networking events. I included the link at the bottom of this post.

- I suggest getting creative with your name tag. Some people list words that describe their interests or what they are looking for under their name. In your case I recommend you write under your name "Talk to me! :-)" (yes with a smiley face)

Nothing seems more inviting or friendly than a nametag that states: "Hi there. My name is Amie. Talk to me. I’ll talk back. I’m friendly!"

Just have a genuine smile. People will come over to you.

- networking is the deliberate process of making connections for mutual benefit. Therefore don't make it a contest of how many business cards you can hand out or receive. Instead look to be helpful, give advice, ask questions and make friendly connections.

- Drop the elevator pitch. Instead listen to the other person, try to understand their business. Show a genuine interest and they in turn will feel connected to you and remember you.

I find that once you build the bridge, you will benefit from all the traffic that runs over it. Most people come to networking events to pitch. I instead come to connect, and build friendly business relationships.

- Know when to politely excuse yourself when someone is dominating too much of your time. Be honest and let them know you would like to grow your network and meet other fascinating people such as them.

-Learn some body language – watch other people having conversations and notice the subtle signs that show when they are interested, and when they are not. Do it right and you’ll be such a great listener that people will become genuinely interested in what you do.

- Follow up! So important.

- Most importantly relax and enjoy yourself. Cheers!

Links:

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFlc2zRL3dU&feature=channel

Sites:
- http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/21/jobs/21career.htm?_r=1

- http://leanmarketingpress.com/lean-marketing-press-articles/networking-cliches-and-how-to-avoid-them/

- http://meetup.openingyou.net

Amie said...

Angie, thanks for cheerleading! Anthony, you're right. I didn't exactly go into it with a positive attitude, and perhaps thinking that I was going to be miserable created a self-fulfilling prophesy. Next time, I will try harder! Thanks for the links, too.

Lori said...

Great first attempt! Here's my piece of advice; put yourself in the mindset not as being on display, but as there to fulfill a mission. Your mission is to interview a few people rather casually without them realizing they're being interviewed. :)) Same few questions - what's your business? How long have you been doing that? What's your key market? What do you enjoy most?

That's it. The change in perspective makes you feel less like the spotlight's on you. People LOVE to talk about themselves - giving them the space makes it easier to get to know them.

Amie said...

Thanks Lori. That would take a lot of pressure off me, as I HATE to talk about myself.