I am going to admit something to you: I have a funny hobby. I am a people watcher. I like to study human behavior and learn from what I see.
At our most recent HTG Peer Groups quarterly gathering, I was noticing how different people interact within their groups as well as in the hallway and social spaces outside of their meeting room. I had a purpose – I wanted to learn how to be a better networker.
My observations at our happy hour played out like a movie and soon showed three categories of people. Let me re-play the scene for you in my best movie narrator voice:
- Group 1: They walked into the room looking like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. Scanning the room quickly, the relief was visible when they found someone they knew. They joined their friend and enjoyed visiting with a small circle of acquaintances. They tended to stay in the same place within the room.
- Group 2: They entered the room with a calm smile and struck up a conversation with someone nearby. Their posture was relaxed, and they were listening more often than speaking. After chatting for a few minutes, they went to grab a drink or some appetizers and then started another conversation. They spent time with friends and acquaintances but focused on meeting new people. They ended up covering most of the room.
- Group 3: They didn’t show up until 5 minutes before their group was supposed to leave for dinner. Networking? Not so much.
It was interesting to see those who stayed within the safe zones of prior acquaintance and often within their own peer group circle contrasted with those who courageously met new people.
The most fascinating part of my observation was that there were as many skilled introverts I witnessed networking as extroverts.
I was reminded that networking is a skill one can grow in through practice. Group 1 are my people. I can relate to the desire to stay with people I know. Yet, I want to grow in my ability to network and admired the natural ease with which Group 2 navigated the room.
We have some great models of effective networking within our HTG community. Here are 8 characteristics I observed in them and would commend to you:
- Be Present. Put your phone away. Pay attention to the person you are talking to and be fully present with them in the conversation.
- Be Generous. Look to Go Give. What value can you bring someone else? It could be that you are able to connect them to someone who can help them with a goal. Or perhaps you promote their interests by writing an article or blog post. It could simply be an apt word of advice.
- Be transparent. What’s your ONE Thing? What value are you looking to get out of the networking time? Acknowledge that there is something or you wouldn’t be there and think about how you can be intentional in getting that value. And be transparent. Others assume you are networking for a reason just as they are. Don’t be afraid to be open and excited about what you are doing and how they could help (in a non-creepy, real sort of way).
- Be genuine. Take a genuine interest in other people. If you don’t have a sincere interest in the person you are speaking with, stop trying. People can see through feigned attention. At the same time though, don’t give up too soon. A whole world opens up to us when we realize everyone is interesting in one way or another and are willing to challenge ourselves to honor someone else by taking the time to learn his or her story.
“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, How to Win Friends and Influence People
- Be curious. Think of some good questions ahead of time.
- Be kind. There are others who hate networking. Who is alone and in need of a rescue? Talk to them. Thank them for being part of HTG.
- Be courageous. If you feel like you are bad at networking, you won’t prove yourself wrong or learn how to be more effective unless you practice.
- Be memorable. This alone will set you apart and make you unforgettable. Do you realize how rare it is in our society to have someone’s complete attention? Do the small things that are often neglected. Send birthday cards. Follow-up after meeting someone with a note to say how nice it was to meet them and include a personal note about something you discussed. Be responsive to e-mails.
When we make the primary function of our networking focusing on, learning about, and promoting others’ interests, it has a twofold positive impact:
Our fear of networking decreases. We discover that people are people, no matter their location or age or job title.
In focusing on others, we often find our own needs will be met, too, because people want to help those who have helped them. It’s an unintended benefit of being others-centered.
So what are you waiting for? The next time you see one of those dreaded networking sessions on an agenda, remember these eight simple tips. Take a deep breath. Walk across the room. You’ve got this.