A couple of years ago, a news story broke about a miraculous search and rescue. It seems two women had gotten lost in a late spring snow in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. As fate would have it, there was a bit of food in the trunk that they survived on for two weeks until they were found: Girl Scout cookies. Now that’s what I call being prepared!
Presenting “Conquer the Room: Tip #1”:
Last week I shared my natural aversion to “networking” and that most people I meet mistake me for an extrovert. When someone shares this observation with me it still feels a little uncomfortable. I’m an introvert, after all. At least that’s what Myers and Briggs tell me. The truth is that the career I have chosen forced my introverted hand and I am now more “social introvert” than extrovert. We are easily mistaken for each other. No biggie.
When it was time to attend my first “big deal” conference, I put together a plan of attack. I wanted to be just as prepared as those Michigan women because I felt like I was heading into the wilderness and I might not make it out alive.
You’re probably thinking one of two things about this tip: either “duh,” or “I knew that was coming after that craziness about the Michigan women.” Keep those cookies in your trunk, because you’re going to start to think about this in a different way.
Getting ready for a networking event goes beyond planning our outfit, coordinating our schedule or looking for the closest exit. What can you do so that the event itself is friendlier, more comfortable to you or simply not so overwhelming? Prepare yourself by doing the research and giving yourself some time to plan. Plan what, exactly?
Plan out to whom you’re going to talk, what you’re going to say, and what’s going to make the event a good investment of your time.
Know your crowd
Think about who’s going to be there. Often there’s a list of attendees available these days. Take a look at that list and pinpoint two kinds of people: the ones you know and the ones you WANT to know. If you don’t have a list of attendees available, think about what kinds of people will be there. Are they from a specific industry, demographic, religion or professional association?
Know your conversation
Once you know who’s going to be there, you can start to obliterate the most intimidating and annoying worry most of us have before an event: “What will I say?” Instead of worry about what you will say, why not get someone else talking?
If you are limited to knowing what type of people will be there, think about what they will be interested in, the kinds of challenges they may be facing or current events impacting their industry or group (although, for the love of democracy and unity, try to avoid politics – unless you are at a political meeting).
If you have researched specific people who are attending (who are also people you may want to meet), think about what you might ask them. Do your research. Any recent articles they have written or been mentioned in? What about their alma mater – any connection?
But by all means, please don’t be a stalker. Let’s not weird out the people we want to meet by asking them about a detail that wouldn’t be widely known if you happen upon it in your research. Find your balance. We’re all grown ups here.
Finally, become a lover and practitioner of the open-ended question. Instead of “Do you like this venue/speaker/topic/event?” you could ask “What do you think of this venue/speaker/topic/event?” The more you can get someone else to talk the less talking you have to do yourself! Besides, who doesn’t like to talk about themselves?
Know your criteria
Good heavens! You are spending at least an hour or two at this event. Why would you want to ever feel like you had wasted your time? The secret to avoiding this frustrating experience is to plan your success criteria in advance. Try to stretch yourself but set reasonable goals depending on how frequently you mix it up with the networking bunch. Will you feel good if you meet three new people? Do you want to share business cards with at least five people? What about setting up follow up meetings with at least one person?
Make your success criteria your own – trying to use someone else’s measure of success will put you right back into that frustrating place. It’s not someone else’s criteria. It’s yours. You make it. You can accomplish it. And you can make it bigger every time.
That’s it for tip #1: Be Prepared. Let me know, when you try it, how it works for you. Also, don’t forget to go out and grab my networking cheat sheet full of ideas to get into and out of conversations at your next event!