The many stories I heard after my mother’s recent passing reminded me of how great networking skills not only enhance everyday life and business, but can also leave a legacy behind in the minds and hearts of others.
In each story, I heard one common thread to her relationships that made her a great networker: she made people feel important because she was curious about them.
Networking was not an event for my mom. It was a way of life. She would extend herself to strangers wherever we went: at the grocery store, restaurants, nail salons, car dealerships, or to just about anyone willing to make eye contact with her when we were standing in line. After she smiled and received a smile in return, she would find a sincere way to compliment the baby’s eye color, someone’s outfit, haircut or anything that stood out to her so she could extend a word of affirmation. This positive connection moved mere strangers from an awkward to an awesome connection because my mom showed interest in them and their lives.
The daily practice of networking skills not only makes life more fun, but it also prepares us for those times when business opportunities appear, so we no longer feel awkward in a social situation.
So how do you move from an awkward to an awesome networker? Here are just a few tips:
- Be alert in your everyday life: Just care about and enjoy people!
- Be approachable: Start with a smile. Remember: others are as nervous as you are. When you smile first, you put them at ease.
- Keep it positive: Too many people start a conversation with something negative like, “Finally…warm weather!” While people often like to get on the pity pot together, people will remember how you make them feel. Starting with a negative will not create a memorable connection with you, just a moment to moan and groan.
- Find a sincere way to affirm the person: Compliment what stands out about the person: the way she interacts with her child? His haircut? Her smile? The color of his tie?
- Be curious about the person: Now that you have made an initial positive connection, get curious about the person beyond the standout feature you complimented. Ask a simple question like, “Do you come here often?” (Let him know you are asking because it is your first time, or your favorite place!) If he continues to open up to you, ask him, “So what do you do?” You will be amazed at how much people love to talk about themselves and who you might meet as a result of your curiosity. I have innocently developed business several times at public places. One time, I spoke to a 9-year-old boy who was sitting next to me while I was waiting for a plane and later found out his mom was in human resources at General Electric. When I asked her what she was currently working on, she said leadership development. When she asked me what I did and I told her I wrote a book on it, she contracted me for the leadership development initiative! It all started with a compliment on her son’s social skills.
- Ditch the pitch: Stop selling what you do and find a fun way to illustrate the benefit of what you do in a 10-second phrase that grabs their attention and keeps them asking for more. For example, when people ask me what I do, instead of saying, “I develop leaders and companies,” I say, “I teach leaders and employees how to play nice in the sandbox together.” They always laugh and tell me stories about how that is needed in their companies.
- Follow up: Ask for his card or name and be sure to follow up. Begin by connecting with him on LinkedIn and send him a note via email. Be sure to say what you liked about meeting him. If possible, find something you can send him to enhance his life, such as an article that relates to what you discussed or a connection that could help him grow.
When we stop looking at networking as a thing we must do to get what we want, we shift from an awkward to an awesome networker. Where will everyday networking lead you? Sometimes to a brighter day when you are standing in a long line waiting, and other times to a big contract from an unexpected encounter. Networking does not happen at an event and it is not predicated on an outcome. It is about developing our curiosity and love for people.
Challenge: How will you make every encounter you have today a positive networking experience?
Susan K. Wehrley is the founder and president of Susan K. Wehrley & Associates, Inc. (a training and development company) and BIZremedies (a strategic growth community for executives and business owners). She is a nationally recognized author of five books and is known for helping organizations and their executives grow by teaching them business best practices. To learn more about Susan and her services go to www.solutionsbysusan.com or www.BIZremedies.com Her contact information is 414-581-0449 and firstname.lastname@example.org.