“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” -Dale Carnegie
In our current economy most people are looking to be reassured of future success. Success could mean having a steady job, several streams of income, or a comfortable savings account (i.e. your mattress). To say that we live in a consistent state of panic or fear may be an overstatement, but things aren’t economically “normal” for sure.
Allow me to be the first, however, to welcome you to the new normal. That is right, this is it – all of it. Economists say we won’t return to previous abnormalities. Think about it. As a country we had unrealistic money principles; we were already abnormal. This post isn’t about negativity – I promise. I want you to be successful, even in uncomfortable times. The easiest route to success is your network and your networking abilities. Networking is a talent for some, and a skill to be learned by others.
Those most likely to need a Networking 101 class are introverts. Some extroverts could benefit from this class too, but the lesson would be on focused conversations versus networking basics. The majority, a little under half, of the U.S. population is introverted. Introverts are not hermits, nor are we social sores. In fact most of us really like people. As an introvert I gain energy from myself, while my extrovert friends “feed” off of the energy of others. Most “I-s” will tell you that they often feel “complete” alone. So when a crowd is gathered we may not be as eager to fuel a new conversation. As a result, we can appear stand-offish making it easy for others to mislabel our actions. When that happens negative ideals about networking may develop, and we dismiss it’s value all together.
Personal preferences and skills, however, don’t take away from the importance of having a solid network, and networking. It is common knowledge that skills alone don’t signal success. Having a voice, a platform, a sponsor from your network makes a big impact. Now, when you receive the spotlight it is important to have the talent; however, if no one knows you exist you will just be a talented nobody. The world is filled with those, don’t be one.
Here are 6 tips on how to build a better network, and be more social at networking events.
1. Change your mental perception. Most people feel icky at the thought of networking. It’s all about what we have told ourselves and less about the action. If you knew every time you met someone they had a $100 bill for you or a vacation with your name on it, would you feel different? I doubt either of those will happen but your attitude probably changed at the thought. It’s that simple. Find a mental trick you can play on yourself such that networking feels more natural. Your brain is so silly, it will believe anything you tell it – honest.
2. Start with your current network. Rather than striking out on your own enlist the help of friends. Purchase an extra ticket to an event you want to attend and invite someone you already know (for free). It would be wise to pick a more outgoing person than yourself, but the strategy works the same if not. It’s plausible that you both may meet the same people while “working” the room. An experience like this will strengthen the relationship you currently have, and open doors for new ones. As an added benefit if you drop the follow-up ball, someone else can keep the relationship going in your absence. Just a warning though: don’t use your friends as a crutch. Strike a balance between having support until you build confidence, and never wanting to be alone. No one likes a “needy” person.
3. Be you. Don’t force yourself to join the young opera professionals if you dig punk rock. There are associations and groups for everything. For example, I found this website for you. The Center for Association Leadership has taken the guess work out of finding professional associations in your community. Just click on the website, enter your data and a magical list will pop-up. Joining the National Association of Floral Designers will assuredly help you expand your network as a designer yourself. Not to mention websites like meet-up provide great chances to find people in your community who love Jane Austen too (shameless plug for one of my favorite authors).
4. Be a better version of you. Attend a conference or volunteer. Improving your skills at a professional/personal development conference is a great way to meet like-minded individuals. Additionally, nothing is better than helping someone else. Volunteering is a great way to improve the world around you and yourself at the same time. Websites like VolunteerMatch can help you pick a cause, and a project.
5. Talk. We have reached the place of no return. It’s time to just do it – like Nike. Speak with people you know, speak with people you don’t know. Here is the catch, don’t try and get anything from them. Talk about your interests, their interests, the weather – just talk. By building an organic relationship you will uncover what you can offer them, and what they can offer you. It won’t be forced, it won’t be obvious and you may avoid the greasy feeling.
6. Extend a biscotti or a brew. Invite people out for coffee, martinis, or a lap around the park. Networking is all about relationship building. Like it or not, all of life is about relationships. If you are in a healthy romantic relationship you have a leg-up on the singles. Why you ask? Well, you’ve (hopefully) learned the importance of investing time into someone else; as well as, the art of listening and true communication.
Having a reliable network is hard-work at first because it requires being organized. However keeping track of your contacts should not be overly taxing if done efficiently. It may take you 2 hours to enter everyone’s birthday on your calendar, but how nice would it be to hear: “I’m shocked you remembered my birthday! How are you; would you like to get together soon?”
It took less than 10% of 1-day to maintain that relationship. Yet when you need a last minute recommendation or an introduction you can feel comfortable making that request. I’m trying to save you from the dreaded “Hello Mr. Man, do you remember me from 6-months ago?” e-mail.
People like helping; they don’t like being tricked. So build geniune relationships – slowly and surely. And, while you are at it, find a way to help someone else.
Networks are like bank accounts. You can’t withdraw what you haven’t yet deposited. Make deposits into someone else’s life; make investments into your own network. It’s all about people and relationships anyway. Hey, if you master this and you are single today, you may not be single for long. Feel free to send me a picture of the new couple…and my finder’s fee while you are at it.