So you’ve been convinced you need to be networking with confidence? Could you be wondering where and how to start? Need help “getting you off the couch”?
This week’s blog article is specifically targeted at those of you who may be willing to admit that doing what it takes to get actively good at “networking” can be a pretty big stretch outside of your comfort zone. In my coaching, grooming mentoring and training work, I often encounter “professionals” that know they should develop their network, but find it very challenging. So I thought I’d outline some of the strategies I have learned that may help “get you off the couch” and get you started.
We all grow up in a “professional silo” of some sort in our career over a period of time, don’t we? My clients have learned that those of us then wanting to transition into a leadership role and further the success in our career have to recognize two fundamental requirements:
- that successful leaders in any professional endeavour use maybe 10 or 20% of the skills that determined their “silo success” and more than 80 or 90% of their more generalist “leadership skills” and “influencing skills” to maintain and grow their success in their leadership roles.
- that ongoing business success necessitates the development of good networking skills, no matter whether we are in an external or an internal role.
and so we adopt the approach that we might as well focus on getting really good at those, starting now.
The First And (usually) Biggest Obstacle
There are many wonderful books and training courses and there is much written material around networking that we can avail ourselves of. I too run a networking skills course in my soft skills training and grooming modules. And there is hardly a coaching program where we don’t groom on this. But there appears to be something we need to overcome before we can actually start that networking learning and development process.
So what is it that appears to create fear for people when we suggest they need to develop a solid network? Fundamentally it is most often the “fear of people”. Knowing that to build a network we are going to have to meet other people. People that we don’t know yet. Strangers. Why does that feel so scary? We meet new people in our workplace and in our social circles all the time. Can it really be that different when we put an expectation or a goal to deciding that we want to pro-actively get out and meet people? I have found the answer to that to be a resounding: “yes”, it is”.
Those of you that know me today may laugh if I tell you that this too was one of the biggest obstacles I had to overcome. And so I thought it may be useful if I share that journey with you today, in the hope that it may help those of you willing to admit this to be true for yourselves to realize that it is in fact quite “lickable”.
I was very fortunate to have some excellent mentors around this topic when I was involved in trying to build a multilevel marketing network. I learned a maxim then that: “what you learn hardest, you teach best”.
So let’s get started, shall we?
1. You Got To Have A Reason.
Why do you want to build or extend your network? Is it to prepare yourself for running your own business or are you already in your own business and realize how much you need a network to get referrals? Or do you recognize how important it is in your career? Whatever it is, without a reason, my experience is that you won’t do what it will take to get out of your comfort zone.
So why not take some time right now to reflect on what this question means to you?
I have found that a great place to start is to set yourself some goals around the topic, and to write them down, to help you make a commitment to yourself that you are serious about wanting to build a network.
My blogs around goals(Goals Trilogy) will remind you to differentiate between results goals (which I suggest you “set and forget”) and activity goals which you use to plan the required daily, weekly and monthly activities that you can then measure and monitor for progress.
I found Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” has a great exercise in it that forms one of the best bases I know for setting and measuring progress in the growth of your network. On pages 39-40 he lists 250 names he randomly extracted from the Manhattan telephone directory and asks you to run a count for every person you know by any of the names in that selection to ascertain how many friends and acquaintances you have. Of the 400 people he did the test with, there were about 20 with a score under 20. Only 4 scored over 100 – what he calls the “connectors”. Whatever your score, what a great goal to double or triple it over a set period of time?
A powerful goal to set to get you out of your comfort zone is to collect 10 business cards from people in your domain that you don’t know yet, as I outline in A Networking Challenge.
Next I learned that Rome wasn’t built in a day. This was a process that needed time and practise. First of all, start by becoming aware of the people around you. That entails looking up and around you. It entails being interested in and developing a curiosity of people around you. Maybe you try and start a collection in your mind of things you notice about people around you. That’s all. Spend a week or so just practicing that.
4. Have Some Fun
Maybe you can devise some games to make it more interesting for you. Maybe you try and guess their professions from the kind of stereotypes we have created in our minds or experience.
5. Smile And Eye Contact
Making eye contact with people is the next step in this “unfreezing process”. When you make eye contact with someone, smile at them. Just practice doing that. If you are comfortable, you can add saying “G’day” with your smile. I learned to set a goal for how many people would say “G’day” back.
6. Make A Quip
Next I learned to make some form of quip, starting with “nice day, isn’t it?” I would select people that had a confident look in their eye and that “looked the business part”. The other day I was walking past a building entrance on my way to a very early meeting and saw a chap expecting an electric door to slide open and it didn’t. I saw he felt a bit of a dill, so to make him feel less embarrassed, I quipped: “don’t ya hate it when that happens?” In time they will respond and you can start a conversation, if you choose.
7. Standing In A Queue
I learned that someone ahead of you or behind you in a queue are “fair game” to practice on. Again if they look like the caliber of business person I’m looking to connect with, I’ll try and start a conversation, usually starting with a very generic question or a quip. If they don’t respond, cool – I’ll leave it there. If they do, that’s great. I was taught the mnemonic device FORM (Family, Occupation, Recreation, Money) as generic topics to ask questions about in order to get people talking (about themselves). Or if you are in a plane, how easy is it to ask: “is this home or are you flying home?” to start the ball rolling.
8. Be Interested
Without being too prying or probing, asking open questions of people often gets them talking about what is most important to them – themselves. I like to get to where I can ask what they do for a living and use that to have them ask me what I do.
9. Elevator Pitch
I urge you to have developed a 30 second description of what you do, that if you described it to a 10-year-old, they’d understand what you do. That’s an important step towards swapping business cards, if they’ve asked and you tell them what you do. (If the “chance meeting” needs quickly to draw to a close, that’s a great reason to say: “hey, I’ve enjoyed talking to you, why don’t we swap business cards so we can catch up for a chat sometime, and if they are willing (and have one on them) they will do so.)
10. Introduce Yourself
You should now be able to develop the conversation to a more connected level. Stretching your hand out and saying: “by the way, my name is….” and shake their hand. A curious look while holding on their hand a little longer with a pause usually gets them to tell you their name. If not you can say: “you are….?” so they do. Then pull out your business card and offer it to them. Holding on to it before letting go will often have them reciprocate, if they have a card on them. Mission accomplished.
I urge you to write the context of where you met them n the back of their card, in case you choose to connect with them, or if they call you so you both remember. But never do that in front of them (it can be construed as defacing their card).
As you get more and more practice with this process, so your confidence will grow and you can start to fine-tune the process to how it works best for you.
Of course there are now many other aspects that need to be developed to become a good networker. Your coach or mentor can help you with those. This was just to “get you out of your comfort zone” and also “off the couch”.
So What Next?
Can you see how this process can quite easily unfold? How you can set an activity goal to practice and develop each week and then move on to stretching it to the next steps in the process?
I know that this works. I am a connector today, having a top end score in the above “connector test”. It wasn’t hard. It just took time and practice – and of course being interested.
Why not use this blog as a catalyst to “have a go”? To set a goal and to start the process? You are in control of each step, the pace, and what you will or won’t do all the way. And remember, the other person doesn’t know your script, so you can back out at any time you feel uncomfortable with the other person or the process. (Provided you don’t use that as a cop-out and stop altogether.) And if you are really serious, why not engage a coach to help you through this?
I would wish for you and hope that you take up the challenge and that you have some fun with it. May it be the starting point for a great networking journey for you; one that will have people call you to ask: “who do you know that…? And if you don’t, you will have a great network to call into to ask them “who do you know that…? and before you know it, you too can be acknowledged as a connector. What if you could?