networking-tipI live in Charlotte. Many of the readers of this article also live here. Recent events in our city have shined a light on the stress that has been peeking out from the shadows for far too long. As I sat down to write this week’s tip, I could not help but ignore what’s going on outside my windows.

Then I thought about my first article in this series: the real intent of networking is to grow our network of relationships. If what we really need to be doing is growing our relationships, then these tips apply just as much to the playground, the church, the grocery store or the street corner protest as they do to the corporate dining room.

I know we’ve got lots of work to do in our city and in communities across this great nation to heal a longstanding hurt. This article isn’t going to fix it. But what if we were to use some of the same principles of networking in community-building as we do in our career-building?

Conquer the Room Tip #2: Be Present

Last week’s tip was “Be Prepared.” We need to do our research and find out about the crowd we’re going to be amongst so that we can have engaging conversation with them. We also need to know what’s going to make that conversation successful. The criteria need to be uniquely suited to us and to those with whom we want to form relationships.

Being present means we bring our whole self into the moment. When we do, we cannot worry about the past (what happened that day) or what’s going to happen in the future (that power point we have to do or email we need to respond to). We can be open to absorbing the moment. There are three ways to be present: bring your character, curiosity, and concentration.

Bring your character

My kids go to a school that encourages the study of character traits like honesty, responsibility and friendship. We instill in our kids that the best of who they are and who they can be is summed up in their character: your best self. In networking, bringing your character means you show up in form and spirit as your best self.

Networking event after work? You’ve got the day written all over you. You look tired and you feel tired. What if you took a moment before you entered the room to straighten up your clothes, make sure things are buttoned, and, for the sake of underwear, zipped up. Make sure that when you walk into that room you’re presenting your best self. Because studies have shown when you look good, you feel good so walk into that room with your full character and reignite your confidence.

Bring your curiosity

Think about the last time you had a really great conversation. Who did most of the talking? Magic happens when we allow other people to tell us their stories. We make connections and establish trust the enables authentic conversation – not just sales talk.

How do we do that? Pull out the super-powerful open-ended question. If I walk over to someone and say, “Hey, I’ve never heard this speaker before. Did you like her?” I only give that person two ways to answer before I have to talk again. BUT if I come over and say, “Hey, I’ve never heard this speaker before. What did you think about her talk?” NOW we have an opportunity to talk about something.

People love to talk. We all do. Fight the urge to do all the speaking: let other people talk more so you can listen more. Try to keep the conversation going by not asking questions that are answered simply with a yes or no. Be curious, ask open ended question, and listen, listen, listen.

Bring your concentration

Paying attention can be hard. How do you keep yourself from being distracted? Eye contact is one of the best ways to stay focused AND one of the most important aspects of any connected conversation. Seven to ten seconds of eye contact with small breaks inbetween works well. Any less than that indicates you’re not interested and any more than that indicates you might be a little weird. I’m not saying count in your brain, just don’t be weird.

Leave your worries at the door. If you’re like me, you’ve got a to do list that’s never really all going to be checked off before you go to your networking event. There are emails, voice mails or unfinished presentations waiting on you. You know what? You’re going to this networking event for thirty minutes, an hour, or an hour and a half. The world won’t end while you’re away from your desk. Set your work aside, bring your concentration and be present.

Electronics: dare I even say, because you should know this already, turn off and put away the electronic device. Nothing is more distracting than a ringing phone unless you actually answer that phone or (GASP) start monitoring your social media in the midst of a mixer. Don’t do that. Stop it. If you must post a selfy, make sure any involved parties are comfortable and on board, take your pic and then, in a quiet moment or AFTER the event, do you your posting.

Concentration is a physical and mental exercise. Walk in with your eyes, ears and brain on and show the crowd you are interested in THEM.

Let’s hear how it’s working for you. What do you think about the tips so far and how are you going to use them?

Tara Lynn is a speaker, coach and writer who works with companies and individuals to clarify what makes them great and build the confidence they need to achieve success as they define it. Are you looking for your support community or that spark of confidence you suddenly feel is missing? Join Tara for private or group coaching sessions and see what happens when you find your tribe. 

Hear Tara’s story and follow her at taralynnfoster.com, on linkedintwitter or Facebook.

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