The Nature vs. Nurture of Business Networking
Next to having actual talent and skills, the ability to successfully business network is crucial to an entrepreneur’s survival. I have found that this is much easier said than done. Some people have it innately within them to smoothly make contact with others no matter the social situation. I’m certainly not one of those people. Don’t get me wrong. I consider myself to be pretty outgoing but when it comes to networking I find myself at a loss. The art of small talk is lost on me which often brings me to the question of why it’s so hard. It’s not like I’m a hermit who doesn’t see the light of day. I have tons of friends. I go out all of the time. I even meet new people and strike up conversations. So why is it so hard when it comes to business networking?
I posed this question to my circle of people and got mixed reviews. Miki, my mother-in-law who happens to be a networking goddess, surprisingly said that it is extremely hard for her. She had to work at her networking skills extensively. The act of networking is definitely not natural for her but she’s good at it, really good at it. This gives me hope for myself.
Then there’s Q, a fellow graduate and graphic designer, who could be dropped in a foreign city and be friends with everyone by the time of her leave. For her, it’s innate. She’s one of the rare breed that just has it. I remember seeing her work a room when we were students together during those awkward events fashioned to help you learn networking. It was like watching the Discovery channel. This graceful creature prowled with stealth from one person to the next creating opportunities with her interactions every step of the way.
Whether innate or not, everyone no matter your trade needs to perfect the art of networking. So here are a few tips that I’ve compiled from my networking deities to help you along the way:
Practice the small talk. You can do it anywhere with anyone. In an elevator, in line at the grocery store, it really doesn’t matter. Just practice striking up short conversations with total strangers to force yourself to become more comfortable talking to random people.
Mind your P’s and Q’s. Business networking although social isn’t a night out on the town with your best buds. There’s a certain amount of etiquette involved so be sure to brush up on the do’s and don’ts. Here’s a few resources with quick tips that I found helpful:
Be authentic. Don’t try to be something that your not. People can see the lack of authenticity and it is a total turn off. Be genuine and authentic in your interactions. Know who you are, what you do and how to explain it within 5-10 seconds without sounding like a robot.
Be interested. Make sure to ask people about themselves. It’s human nature to talk about ourselves but try to abstain and keep the conversation flowing by asking questions about the other person instead of talking about yourself.
Be aware. Networking can happen with anyone anywhere. Be aware of opportunities to network. You never know who someone knows. That person might know your next client or better yet, your next five clients.
Relax. Try not to get hung up on the logistics of networking. All-in-all networking is just meeting someone new. You won’t be graded on your performance. Try to relax and enjoy the conversations and the thrill of making new connections. Your not networking to sell. Your networking to expand your business circle which in turn will provide opportunities.
Get a mentor. If you know someone who’s a networking guru, ask them to give you some pointers and maybe even observe them in a networking situation so you can see the person in their element. Ask them to role play with you. They can give you feedback on whether your elevator pitch sounds authentic or contrived and can help you become more comfortable with your body language.
Like I said, all of this is easier said than done. Some of us have it naturally but most of us have to nurture our way to business networking success. Either way, no matter how you get there, just get there. I’ll meet you there.