How I Prepare and Engage in Networking – A Perspective

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to support many professionals and students as they embark and improve on their professional networking.  It’s the one thing we know we “should” do but it’s one of the most challenging things to actually do.  Trust me. I know.  I still have to work at it.  I still have to “psych” myself to engage in it.  On a few occasions, I’ve skipped the “networking” part of a conference, because I just wasn’t up to being “on” that day.  So, I am a practitioner, still practicing.
But here’s what’s worked for me, which is at the core of my teachings:
1) Before any networking event, I visualize that it’s a sea of friendly people, all of whom are there to meet others, and hence, welcome me.  I feel excited to meet people and trust that i will meet the people who are “right” for me.  I may get something “out” of it, but I focus on welcoming me into the process and welcoming these strangers into my life.  Net, net, I visualize a friendly and welcoming environment so I feel relaxed and I can be who I am.
2) I know my core story and I have my self-introduction down.  I adjust my self-intro depending on the kind of event I attend to make sure my “pitch” is fine-tuned for the people who are there.  I know the key points I intend to make and the questions I intend to ask.
3) I review the event marketing materials so I know the companies and type of people who will be there.  Understanding my audience is key.
4) I have my business card holder ready.  One side with my cards.  The other side for other people’s cards.
5) I eat something before I go to the event.  My objective is to meet people, not to eat.  I don’t want to be caught with my mouth full or honestly, have food items stuck in my teeth.  Sounds crazy, but that’s all part of my branding.
6) I put on clothes that represent my branding and that “fit” the tone of the event.  I’m sure it’s clothing I’ll feel comfortable wearing, as I mill around the room.  I have comfortable shoes on so I don’t look or feel “off kilter” and can in my power.
7) When I get to the event, I always go to the ladies room first.  I make sure all is well.  I make intentions that this is going to be enjoyable.  And I set out.
8. I pick up brochures and survey the room and the people.
9) I look for people who are alone, and even though there is a moment of discomfort to launch, I smile, extend my hand and I’m on!
10) When I talk with someone, I make sure I’m fully there, really focused on what they’re saying, not looking around too much, so that I respect him/her and make the most of that moment of connection.
11) I sense when a conversation has come to it’s natural ending, wish them well and move on — sometimes to the food area, so I can take a break and look around some more.
12) I approach some, others approach me…before you know it, the work has paid off.  Not because I always “get something”, but because I was out there.  Invariably, something good always comes out of these situations.
I am still in practice.  Networking is a practice. The more we do, the more comfortable we’ll feel.  One step will naturally lead to another.  It’s ok to be afraid and uncomfortable.  Imagine you at your best. Know that you are worthy of other people’s time.  Prepare.  Then, when you’re there, smile, extend your hand, and go!