Do you hear the word “networking” and the hairs on your neck stand up or you run to the bathroom to toss your lunch? I used to be the same way and now I lead an organization that grew as a result of networking and involves networking as part of its programming.
In the weeks ahead, I will focus on strategies, ideas, etc., but for today I want to share some random thoughts on the topic.
CHANGE YOUR MINDSET
Stop thinking about networking as a bunch of suit-wearing people in little cliques scattered throughout a room randomly passing out business cards and enjoying some crudité. If historically you have been to those types of events, run as fast as you can to find “your people.” That is not it! Change your mindset to think positively that networking is simply relationship building. It is schmoozing. It is getting to know other amazing people. It is introducing yourself to people who simply must know you <grin>.
BE FREE TO BE YOU
Isn’t it easier in life when we are just ourselves? When we just embrace who we are, our personality quirks/traits, our own style in terms of the way we conduct ourselves (and even what we wear), and just do what feels natural? It is just more comfortable and authentic – and it shows. Trying to be someone you are not takes way too much effort and people can usually tell when you are putting “it” on. So just be you – wherever you are and with whomever you are with! I know when I can be my casual self and when I need to bring out my uber professional side – but I am always me. ALWAYS!
YOU CAN’T BUILD MUSCLES BY SITTING AROUND
I have learned that the ability to converse with others is truly a muscle that you need to build up and continue nurturing. That doesn’t happen unless you get off your tush and work to build it up.
I have shared before that I used to be painfully shy. Occasionally I still am. And I don’t enjoy being the center of attention. But I made a commitment in my early 20’s when I launched my first business that I would work hard to develop the ability to talk to others and to be more assertive. I started making conversations everywhere I went – the grocery store, bank, post office, parties. Before Chamber Ambassadors were the rage, I used to volunteer to handle the registration desk at Chamber events. That allowed me to meet everyone who came in, not have to work the room because I was stationed at the desk, and “be seen.” No one else had the advantage of meeting everyone in the room, but me! Over time that made it so much easier. My point is that there are opportunities everywhere to stretch yourself and build that networking muscle. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your personal growth will take time, too. Just making the commitment to work on it is a huge step.
IT ISN’T ALWAYS AS IT SEEMS
Have you ever gone into a room and seen all these happy people talking and assumed they knew one another? Trust me – it isn’t always as it seems. They may be building up their networking muscle just like you. They may be getting out of their comfort zone just like you. In fact, I know they are! Never take anything on face value. I have learned this about networking but also about life and success. Some of the people I thought had their acts together and were incredibly successful, turned out to be the opposite. How refreshing to know that we are all alike. Please don’t allow yourself to think that anyone is better than you in any part of life, career or business. We’ve all got something and we can all learn from one another.
Quite some time ago I decided to wear my insecurities, imperfections, challenges, trials and tribulations on my sleeve. I share it. I own it. And I am liberated as a result. I know part of it is age, as I am holding strong at 49, but it is also exhausting to not be authentic 100% of the time. Putting on airs takes too much effort. When faced with an uncomfortable situation, such as networking, just put it out there that you are struggling. If you are chatting with someone, you can simply say, “I have a confession – I am not always 100% comfortable in these situations, but talking with you has been great.” Chances are they will respond that they feel the same way. Or that they did and will offer suggestions on how they overcame it. If they say, “Oh, it sucks to be you,” you have my permission to choke them with their business cards. Trust me, it will work out well. Admit it – own it!
YOUR FUTURE DEPENDS ON IT
Your ability to network and to build relationships is profoundly important in life. Sounds kind of dramatic but it is true. Yes, I have been committed to personal growth – as I know you are or you wouldn’t be reading this. But the relationships I have built throughout the years have made nearly everything else possible. And it isn’t about people doing for me – it is oftentimes what I have learned from those peeps. It’s the encouraging words, it’s the mentoring, it’s the feeling I get when I’m around them.
BUT HOW DO I DO IT, LESLIE?
Great question, tee hee. Stay tuned for future blogs about how to do it! But for now reflect on your attitude about networking, what is and isn’t working for you, how you would like things to be different (and what you visualize it being when improved) and reinforce your commitment to yourself and your growth. While you are at it, give yourself a pat on the back for being awesome.
Leslie Sturgeon is the founder of Women Inspiring Women and a lifelong entrepreneur. She embraces her imperfections while learning about herself and others, supporting the fabulous women in the WIW community, journeying through life with optimism, and laughing so hard she snorts or pees (sometimes both simultaneously). www.womeninspiring.com