Networking for Wallflowers

Networking is a talent that, once mastered, will unlock doors and is a key to success in life as well as business.   

From the playground to the prom to the boardroom, knowledge and talent will get you so far.  If you are not able to make the connections and build those relationships, you are just another wall flower watching as your classmates dance the night away.

“Oh!  I’m just shy.”  That may sound good, but it won’t put food on the table.   Take a deeper look at yourself and ask “why? “  

You may avoid networking because you fear rejection, or lack confidence or you may even feel you are unworthy.   You may hold the viewpoint that Networking is manipulative or insincere and with the thousands of networks out there I am sure there is a lot of that about. 

Keep searching for the right network, the reward is so great you will be glad that you did. 

Start Small

So do we get a wallflower to take that first step?  We keep the intimidation factor to a minimum.   Start with friends and relatives.   Using a known contact will get you over the first hurdle and demystify the networking process. 

Next would be classmates and alumni.  Your college has an alumni network in place with people that joined the network for just such a reason.   It is a wealth of connections and should not feel like a cold call, that is what it is there for.

Stop Apologizing

This is relationship building.  You don’t have to apologize for wanting to learn more about someone you would like to network with.   It shows lack of confidence, unprofessionalism, it is juvenile and annoying.  You are worth someone’s time and one day you may be able to help them out.

To quote business coach and author of Never Eat Alone,  Keith Ferrazzi, “Humans are hard-wired as communal, tribal animals, so the shy person isn’t shy by nature, they are shy by design.  Something happened to them to make them want to recoil.” 

To an introvert, sometimes, the clouds part and the sun beams through and the realization sinks in that he is not the shy loner he thought he was.  

At this point, he says, tap into the wisdom of Dale Carnegie in Five Bullet points.

  • Smile – It makes you approachable
  • Ask a question – it is much easier to engage a person that barging in with an opinion.
  • Listen – with sincere interest.  People love to talk about themselves.  Discuss their experiences and opinions
  • Business Cards – always have them handy
  • Say the person’s name – Doing so makes the other person feel more comfortable, like you really know him and he knows you.

Be Yourself

Well not exactly, we want you to be more gregarious than normal, but keep it real.  You don’t want to come off as artificial or like someone who is only in it for himself.   So if you are a bit awkward, it’s to be expected, but don’t apologize for it.

Get Your Blood Boiling

Attend clubs or events that pique your interest.  Book clubs, local charities, sporting events, hobby groups, car or motorcycle clubs, whatever your passion it is easier to be “you” and you will enjoy yourself as well.

If you are a techie or a doctor, it doesn’t mean you only have to attend medical or technology conferences.   You could be chatting about each other’s occupation in between discussing the plot of the latest book or which trade is good for your team.  

Take Risks

When you take risks you overcome your fear of rejection.   It will make networking easier.  You will be able to strike up conversations and make cold calls.  You may spend a whole season sitting behind someone could be a key networker for you, it all starts with a “hello.”

Weird Is The New Normal

There was a time when mass-marketing equaled greater profits.  Terms like “Social Pressure” and “Forced Compliance” came about because of mass-marketing.  Bill Gates and Henry Ford sewed up the market in their respective categories. 

While there was plenty of competition in 1918, the social consensus was “you needed a Ford”.  The same with Microsoft when the entire Fortune 500 was using their software, most other companies felt as though they had to comply.

As legend has it Henry Ford once said, “…your car can be any color, as long as it is black.”

But let's say for example, you sold paper cups or better example, paperclips.  How are you going to distinguish your paperclips from your competitor?  With all things being equal, what sets you apart from your competition?

The answer is, “YOU!”   You are selling yourself as a person.  The quality, pricing, your dependability and the care you place on a person or account is part of a relationship that forced compliance lacks.

In a book called, “We Are All Weird” by Seth Godin, he explains, “Human beings prefer to organize in tribes.”  These tribes or groups of people, share a culture or a definition of normal.  Mass marketing is a push toward a “universal normal” merely to sell more products that other tribes may not consider normal.  Anything other than the “universal normal” is considered “weird'.     

We are experiencing a change in culture.  The digital revolution has fractured the marketplace.  Though we, as humans, still have our own definition of normal, technology has enabled us to connect with other people or tribes with the same values and culture and definition of normal. 

That is why, Godin says, market-leading organizations fear the weird.  He goes on to predict the end of mass-marketing as we know it. 

So weird or not, one thing remains, you must make you customer feel like he or she is your most important client or business account that you have.  In time people will come to realize that weird, is the new normal.

Improving Your First Impression

To some people, networking conjures up images of having to go to meetings, events or other functions  that you really don't want to go to, but you have to.  Because how else are you going to pass out 100 business cards under the mistaken belief that is what networking is all about. 

Then at the gathering,  you may find that being relaxed and being yourself is near impossible because the stress that dwells in your imagination.  How do these people do it?

If you were to ask a lot of successful networkers, they will tell you they were once uncomfortable also. But they just kept at it until they got better.  Then they got good and kept at it until it was second nature.  

I am sure your remember going to the mall, or the beach or maybe a school dance with your friends and just watched people.   We didn't know it but when we were people watching, we were actually honing a useful skill.

An experimental psychologist at Harvard University, Nalini Ambady, together with Robert Rosenthal surprisingly found that numbers hardly vary between the impression people made in as little as two seconds of meeting a person and knowing same person for one semester. 

They say you have ten seconds to make that first impression.  People mistakenly think that is from the time you shake hands and say “How do you do?  I'm So-And-So”.   Actually, that was your last three seconds.  They found you were being accessed a good seven seconds as you approached.

If you know what they are accessing and you can work on a proper impression.  During the the first 7 seconds people look for, how you work the room, your attitude or vibe, and your approach. 

Here are a few do's and don’t s.  Some of it is just common sense, some is just human nature, I hope it  helps ease the stress.

Working the room:

  • Appearance, well groomed cleaned and pressed.
  • Relax, if you are still nervous.  People watch for a bit.  Check out the room.  See which people are are doing well.  Make your own observations.  Is there someone there that you would like to speak with.   
  • Do not hand out a card to everyone.  Keep in mind others are watching and it gives the appearance of desperation.
  • Eye contact and interest.
  • Ask questions about the person you are speaking with and Listen! Listen! Listen!
  • No cell Phones.  If you have to take a call or text, please, step out side the room then return after.  Aside from being rude it makes the person feel like they are not important.  Don't be that guy in the corner playing with your blackberry through the whole event or talking over the din.
  • Do not stand alone.  There are other people who may be alone that would readily welcome your introduction. 

Attitude or Vibe:

  • It is how people feel when around you, and a lot is body language. This could be a extensive topic all by itself.
  • First thing is, Smile! Smile! Smile!  It makes you approachable. 
  • Talk to three people without handing them a card or any expectations.  This will take the pressure off and get you into the mix.
  • One of the simplest techniques for body language is to mimic or copy the other person.  Try to keep an open posture as opposed to a defensive posture.

Approach:

  • Don't walk directly up to someone from across the room.  It will put them on the defensive.
  • If you are working the room you will kind of flow right up to them.
  • As you get near, pay attention to the various conversations around you.  Time your approach to and joining into a three way conversation work most of the time.
  • Always think before you you speak.  You have done well to this point.  You want to be remembered for saying something good, not something bad.

Common Traits of Successful Networkers

If you want to learn how to swing a bat, or a golf club or throw a football, find people who do it really well.  Then you watch, learn, and ask questions and practice.   That applies to almost anything, mechanics, sales, building trades, art, law, business.  Successful people breed success.

You can take this one step further by taking several successful networkers and compare them.  You can then find the traits that they have in common and put them to use.

  1. Networking is Building Relationships – The best way to do that is to be yourself, build trust, be ethical, and lend a helping hand when you can.
  2. Join Several Networks/Organizations – Many allow a couple of visits before committing.  Size them up first.  You need to know if they are a good fit for you and your business.  Is the leadership capable?  Is there a sense of cooperation and support between one another?   What is the overall attitude or mood at the meeting?  It is better to be a member of a couple of good groups, than five or six groups that are not a good fit for you or your business.
  3. Have a clear understanding what you want to achieve at a network meeting – This will help you select groups that get you closer to your goals.
  4. During networking conversations ask open ended questions. – By doing this you have just put your listening ears on.  During these discussions people will pick-up on your interest.  Conversations open up much more than the closed ended 'yes' or 'no' banter.
  5. Volunteer for a Position in the organization – Giving back to the group increases your visibility.
  6. Be a strong resource – This will also increase your visibility.  They know they can count on you for names, leads, ideas or suggestions.
  7. Prompt follow through on referrals. – No one wants to do business with a flake.  It makes them look bad and you look bad and they will be less likely to give you a referral is that happens.
  8. Arrange a further meeting – You may meet 20 people but if you make two or three contact that fit well with your goals you have done well.  You should meet with them over lunch or coffee so you can learn more about one another.
  9. Be able to articulate what your do – Be clear and concise and touch on the following, Who you are, what you do, what makes you better that the rest and why should someone do business with you.
  10. Be able to articulate what people can do for you. – All too often we stammer or just say “Nuttin'”.  So be prepared with a clear concise answer that question.