Kick the ‘Wallflower Syndrome’: Mastering the “social side” of networking
I keep preaching that showing up to an event puts you most of way home when it comes to growing your network. However many among us do not feel comfortable with the social side of networking. And I have some baby steps that will help to get you there.
Some years back Keith Ferrazzi famously urged us to “never eat alone”. His advice could not be closer to the truth when attending one of our networking events, whether it be an Annual General Meeting (AGM), a regional event or joining one of our booths at an exhibition. But many of our colleagues turn into wallflowers instead of getting their money’s networking worth. Some are introverts, naturally shy or feel they don’t have much to say and some don’t know what is appropriate. If you fall into one of these categories (or related) I have a few pointers for you so that you can make the most of not eating alone.
- Make a bit of a one-on-one with someone else. This is a good starting point for those on the introvert or shy side of the personality landscape. Find someone who is alone and speak with them directly. You don’t have to have something to talk about right away because you can get the conversation going by asking them questions about themselves, their families, their companies or their home towns / home countries. These are the easiest and best subjects for the vast majority of people to speak on so even if your counterpart is also crowd averse you can pretty much count on them being able to speak on these subjects. And hopefully they’ll ask you some questions too! But keep an eye out that you don’t hog someone when they might want to join broader conversations around. This can have a negative effect.
- Gravitate towards open groups. If you aren’t so much in the shy mode but are new to the overall group, to the industry or for whatever reason don’t know what to add to the conversation the best thing to do is to hang around with open groups that have several people standing around speaking openly about general subjects. When here you then wait until some subject matter comes up that you can contribute to then take your shot and add your voice to the conversation. Once you have successfully gone through this process you are no longer an “unknown” to the group. You will speak with just a tad be more authority.
- Later join groups that you target. Once you have taken the first steps as a one-to-one or open group veteran find the people who you would like to get to know personally and professionally. Join the informal groups that they are in and get into the conversation. Be careful, though, to not follow these people around from group to group. Then you could be doing more damage than good.
Also, related but not the same…
If you happen to be at an exhibition make sure to attend cocktail receptions and parties that you are invited to, to the extent that it is possible. This will broaden your circles even wider and also give people who might have you as a target to get to meet you as well. Remember, when you are networking there could be as many people or more who’d want to see you as who you might want to see.
Remember: Networking is no different from any other worthwhile undertaking. Great things are possible with baby steps.