When I was little, the best costumes came in small paper boxes from Eckerd drugstore. They were usually plastic aprons masquerading as princess dresses and were packaged together with a plastic mask that usually ended up being worn as a headband or not at all. The elastic stapled onto the ears of the princess face would break or the inside of the mask would get all sweaty with the condensation of the heavy breathing resulting from running from house to house. The older we got, the more creative the costumes. One year, with wigs and clothing from the salvation army, we dressed up as hobo clowns. Another year, using cardboard boxes and copious amounts of tinfoil, we dressed as robots. Ah, Halloween. Fun times.
When we go into the workplace, we tend to put on the costume of someone we think we need to be instead of being comfortable in the street clothes of our authenticity. We worry about what people will think of us. It’s important. Perception impacts our reviews, our promotions and even our pay. We work harder to “fit in” instead of belonging (you can thank Brene Brown for that distinction). This doesn’t just happen in the conference room; it also happens in the corporate dining room.
So that’s our third tip for networking more confidently:
Conquer the Room Tip #3: Be Authentic
When you walk into a networking event, it’s going to take eight seconds for the people who see you to form an opinion of who you are and what you’re about. It will take eight to ten additional meetings to change that impression of who you were at that first moment. We want to be authentic, but we also want to make the best first impression that we can. How? We need to own our space, own our sticker, and own our speech.
Own your space
One of my favorite, favorite, favorite TED talkers is Amy Cuddy. Among the many things she talks about are the superhero stance and the power of presence. After a long day of work when you would really rather go home, turn on your favorite Netflix series and eat a bowl of cold cereal, you can’t because you have an event. Somehow, you’ve got to find the want-to to walk into the room confidently.
What if while you’re in the bathroom brushing off the dust of the day, straightening, buttoning, and making sure everything is secure, you put your hands on your hips and throw your shoulders back like you’re about to take off in flight? Do it now…go ahead! Notice that you have created a whole new space for yourself. When you walk into the room, owning the space around you, people will know. You will be magnetic. @taralynnfoster
Own your sticker
Ok, I’ll admit it: I drive a mini-van. I resisted as long as I could but, seriously, you try fitting three full size car seats, two portable cribs and a double stroller in a Passat. The struggle is real, people, and mini-vans are the answer. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a minivan but it does come with a set of preconceptions that we make about those who drive them, doesn’t it?
That’s why bumper stickers are so important. You see me drive up and you imagine I have kids in car seats and crushed cheerios on the floor and while this may be true, that does not define me. When I drive by and you see my 13.1 sticker, what you know about me changes (for those uninitiated, that’s the sign of a half-marathoner, not an incomplete bible verse).
As you walk toward people in the room, they see, know, or believe something about you based on how you show up at the door. Our “sticker” is what we want them to remember about us when we leave. @taralynnfoster I am okay with you knowing that I’m a mini-van driver but ONLY if you also know the more important things about me that complete the package. When I’m being my authentic self, I can show you all of that.
What do you want your bumper sticker to say?
Own your speech
When you hear, “So what do you do?,” do you freeze? Do you ramble? The pressure is on to make an impression. By failing to prepare for this question, we stumble or say something so scripted it could have been canned by DelMonte.
Stop doing that! The best way to respond authentically is to first ask yourself: will I talk about my position or my purpose?
Let’s say I’m a project manager and someone asks, “What do you do?” I can respond in one of two ways:
- “I’m a project manager at ABC Bank,” or
- “Well I’m the type of person who really likes to take large ideas, and work from chaos to order, defining milestones along the way that get us from a concept to a finished project. Right now, I’m doing that as a project manager at ABC Bank.”
See the difference?
When you talk about your position, you’re highlighting a job or a company, not necessarily telling them about yourself. There are a million project managers out there and you need to stand out authentically. By talking about your purpose instead of your position, you make your character and capabilities the headline instead of the footnote. @taralynnfoster
How YOU Doin’?
So that’s it for this week. Now you have three of the four tips: Be Prepared, Be Present and Be Authentic. It’s been kinda quiet out there – I really want to know what you think! Let me hear what’s been helpful and where you are still struggling.
Go conquer that room!
Hear Tara’s story and follow her at taralynnfoster.com, on linkedin, twitter or Facebook.
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