Networking; the mere mention of the word is enough to make some of us shudder. As growth-oriented professionals we know it’s something we should do, but it can also feel awkward or contrived. Love it or hate it, the verdict is clear, statistics consistently show the face-to-face approach is key to making an impact.
Recently a women’s consulting organization I belong to released the results of their best-practices survey, revealing beyond a doubt that face to face networking outweighs the results of most other marketing efforts combined in terms of generating new business.
With that in mind, I invite you to revisit your notions of networking, so instead of viewing it as a necessary evil, you experience it as become an opportunity to build authentic connections.
I remember dreading networking events because I felt like I had to have the right credentials, or to come across as especially interesting in order to connect with people. This translated to stress and anxiety, which did in fact make the experience less pleasant. Then there was that pressure to speed connect, which was of course self-imposed, but the impact was the same.
At the end of the evening, I’d have a stack of cards ½” thick, belonging to people I doubt I’d recognize the next day. Eventually I realized I was missing the point.
Contrary to what you may believe, you don’t need to be the life of the party or the smartest person in the room to make great conversation. Because, and here’s the big reveal, ultimately it’s not about you!
People are looking to connect with someone that’s authentically interested in them, so just accepting that basic reframe can take any performance anxiety down a notch.
Fortunately there’s a better approach to networking, one I call high impact connection, that reframes the concept of networking as an annoying ask to an opportunity to genuinely relate to others. It’s a simple process, which I’ll share with you right now.
It starts with Rule #1; just show up. This can be the hardest part, but I’m telling you, it packs the biggest payoff. In fact, just by seeing people repeatedly at a networking event, you’re building connections without ever even verbally communicating. Psychologists like to call effect this familiarity bias. It’s why politicians post their names on those little signs posted everywhere during election time, the familiarity of that alone is enough to generate votes. When you eventually do have the opportunity to talk with that person, the ice is already thawed.
But why settle for thawed when you can have melted? Now that you’ve made the effort to get yourself to the event, you’re not going to stop there, so now what? Your goal is to meet people and build relationships, so is simply exchanging business cards going to get you there?
To connect with someone, you need to show them that you’re genuinely interested in them, which you can do simply by giving them your full attention during a conversation.
So Step 2 is to spot someone in the crowd you’d like to meet, introduce yourself, then open by asking a question that will inspire more than a one word answer. Avoid questions like “what do you do?”, “where do you work?” and instead try an open-ended question. My go-to approach is to ask how the person is connected with the host or organization hosting the event. So you could ask, “how are you connected with the Chamber of Commerce?” at a Chamber networking function.
Then you’ll move onto Step 3, which is to really listen while the other person is talking. You’ll have to resist the urge to count down the seconds until you can jump in with a remarkably similar story that recently happened to you, check your phone or scan the room for someone you know already. This is the other person’s chance to talk, and your turn to give them your full attention. You’ll be amazed at how great simply being heard can make someone feel.
Step 4 is to break with the usual pattern of conversation, where you reply with your story or feedback, and instead ask a follow up question. For example, “Sounds like you attend a lot of these events, how is it working for you?” which takes things down to a thoughts and feelings level, where real connection begins.
Of course not all of these conversations will go swimmingly. So focus on following up with those that do. Step 5 is to continue the quality conversations with a follow up plan, whether it’s connecting on social media, or getting together at a future event.
For Psychology Geeks
According to Organizational Anthropologist Judith Glaser, deepening the level of conversation to a place where thoughts and feelings are shared and heard is the foundation for developing the type of trust that leads to genuine connection.
“When we feel that others respect and appreciate us, the mirror neurons located below the prefrontal cortex are activated, enabling us to identify with others and create a bridge of empathy with them. We activate our ability for bonding, collaborating, and experiencing high-point emotional moments, meaning that the levels of oxytocin are increasing as we interact. This influx of neurochemicals reinforces trust” Judith Glaser, .
This style of networking takes longer than the business cards exchange style interaction you may be used to You’ll probably meet fewer people this way, but those you meet you’ll remember, because instead of simply asking a networking question, you’ve followed up with a question that evokes thought and feelings, creating the space for authentic connection.
Since I’ve been using this High Impact Connection strategy, I’ve developed power partners, referral allies, and supportive friends, resulting in the opportunity to share this information in a live (and really fun) workshop format. Contact me today to learn more!
5 steps to High Impact Connection:
- Show up!
- Ask an open-ended question that conveys real interest in the other person
- Just listen; don’t think about what you’re going to say, or a similar experience you have to share, just give your undivided attention to the person you’re in conversation with.
- Ask a follow up question before you respond to take the conversation to the thoughts and feelings level.
- Now, how will you foster this new connection? Perhaps arrange to meet in the future for coffee or at another event? Part with a follow up plan in mind.
Now you’re ready to go forth, network and let the high impact connection begin!