By Ashley Michael
Nothing sounds more painful to me than standing around in a semi-crowded room, hoping to make eye contact so I can hand out my precious business cards, while simultaneously praying that nobody sees me because those conversations can be SO AWKWARD.
This is why I write for a living. I don’t want to talk to strangers.
Do you know why I don’t want to talk to strangers?
It’s called lack of confidence. Not complicated.
And how does one boost stranger-talking, or “networking” confidence?
For me, I must swallow a dose of my own parenting advice.
My daughter, who is almost seven, started a new, more advanced dance class this year with her dance studio. Her excitement quickly changed to panic when she realized she was younger and less polished than the other girls. “It’s your first semester in this class,” I bolstered. “Don’t worry! By the end of the year, you’ll have learned so much, and will be dancing even more beautifully than you already do.” It was quite easy for me to see that time spent practicing would cure her problem and pacify her fears.
Networking is like ballet:
Polish and confidence come with practice.
Just do it.
Just get out there and talk to people.
Converse with their faces.
At least if you go to a “networking event,” you can learn how to start a conversation, or practice asking engaging questions. Authentically connect with people. You cannot rely on Facebook feeds, inbox blasts, or even blogs like this if you simply sit alone, hidden from sight, cowering at the light of day. And you definitely aren’t building any significant level of trust with your future customers, business partners, allies, and community members at large. The ability to genuinely connect with another is quickly escaping from our society, but people can still smell the stench of disingenuousness when it is a mile away, covered with peanut butter, and dipped in chocolate with peppermint sprinkles. (Would that be gross? Peanut butter and peppermint?) At least find time for a smile and wave, or a friendly handshake. Just don’t wink – that’s inappropriate.
Put on a new pair of shoes and get yourself out there. You have a lot to offer to the world, and people will be glad to make your acquaintance.
The Biz Foundry is always looking for ways we can help entrepreneurs, business owners, creative artisans, or whoever you may be. We regularly host networking events at local breweries and coffee houses. These would be great places to perfect your networking skills.
Will “networking” actually do anything for me, though?
Yes, it will. Don’t be lazy and try to convince yourself otherwise. I will give you three reasons to network:
1. Networking allows you to hone for yourself a concise little nugget of personal skills, experiences and values. An amuse-bouche. A taste of all the lovely spices and ingredients you have wrapped up in one perfect little bite. Or, if food analogies aren’t your thing, think of it as a 30-second elevator pitch. The elevator pitch is actually a tool you will find extremely useful, and once again, only improves with practice. (For a literal example of an elevator pitch, watch this show on entrepreneur.com. Personally, I find it addicting. https://www.entrepreneur.com/watch/elevatorpitch)
2. Networking brings you the support of your local community. Regardless of your industry or skill set, there is nothing like personal interaction to build relationships and garner local support. The Upper Cumberland is full of lovely small towns and rural communities, which roughly translates to, “tightly knit groups of people.” Many of us grew up here, and most of us actually know our neighbors. If you can earn the trust of your local community, your business’s reputation will take care of itself.
3. Networking builds your confidence as a professional, and might even open doors you hadn’t considered for yourself. Some of us are looking for a career change. Others are just starting out on the work scene again after being a stay-at-home parent. When you attend a networking event – some sort of social or happy hour or meet-and-greet, you may find different industries or innovative business ideas you hadn’t considered before. You may find a source of inspiration in another’s story, or a mentor for yourself.
What are your thoughts on Networking? Do you detest the word? Are you a networking wizard, possessing some sort of magical skill to attract interesting and helpful people to yourself? How do you think networking ought to function in our area? Write your thoughts in the comment section below! Seriously, we always love to hear from you.