Twice this week I had the privilege to chat with different groups about building connections and creating a network with two of my dear friends, Emily Flowergarden and Leighton Smith. We got questions ranging from “How do you break into a group at an event?” to “What do I do about my rapid heart rate and sweaty palms?” Great discussions and some really good laughs.
We kept coming back to the basics of connection. Networking is no more than purposeful connection with other humans. Here were some of the insights we discussed, and what has helped us have a REALLY fun time meeting new people and building our networks.
- Do it all the time. Networking aka connecting with other humans can happen all the time! You can do it walking down the street, in your own office, in your friend group, at your kid’s sporting event, at church. Be open to meeting people and learning from them everywhere you are. Make eye contact, say hello, start a conversation.
- Ask better questions. We all ask and get asked, “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” How about something else? I will steal from friends that are great at this. “What do you enjoy?” “What are you most excited about?” “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned lately?” “What’s the best thing happening in your life right now?” These push you past surface conversation and create a connection you will both remember, that you you can both learn from, and that will be way more fun!
- Prepare what you want people to know about you. If you are leading with good questions, you better have the answers yourself to those questions. If you want people to know more about you than where you’re from and what you do, what do you want them to know? I like to share causes I support, what I like to do in my spare time, as well as the latest book I’ve enjoyed and would recommend.
- Be yourself. Everyone has their own style, and no matter what your style is, if it’s genuine it will work! And be honest. When you feel uncomfortable, say it. Tell people you are out of your comfort zone, uncomfortable, or nervous. We are all human and they will understand! If they don’t, you don’t want to be around them anyway. Vulnerability and jokes have always worked for my friends and I. Even when you’re a pro, you still get a little nervous. Emily and I both laughed about how we still blush and get sweaty sometimes. Rejection is real and no one wants to experience it. Also…wine always helps!
- Take action. Do something about what you learned. Find something in common, make a recommendation, connect the person you met with someone else, or send a follow up note. My friends and I find ways to help people whenever we can. We try to introduce anyone we meet to anyone else we know in the room. If you are lucky to be someone who doesn’t mind inserting yourself into the groups or walking into a room alone, find the person in the corner and invite them over. Any small gesture helps make that connection stronger.
When I was early on in my sales career and feeling intimidated and unsure of myself, a mentor reminded me that, “sales is just a conversation among friends who are equal.” I would say the same for networking. Humans want to connect and we want to belong. The more you practice the easier it will get! Get out there and create those connections!