Networking can be a crucial marketing strategy. And if you noticed, I did not use the word “networking” in the title, but communication. There’s a reason.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “networking?”
A quick exchange of business cards, right?
It’s why many people don’t enjoy networking events. The main focus is business cards.
Do you have them? Did you forget them? When do you give someone your card and what do you do if they don’t have one?
This focus can eclipse the real purpose of networking and it’s quite simple.
The focus of any networking event is to communicate. To exchange ideas. To meet someone new and learn about what they do. Then you might give them your business card if you’d like to continue the conversation.
I used to take my communication skills for granted until I attended a networking event with a few co-workers. I arrived earlier and didn’t realize one of them was observing me. At the food bar, she approached me.
“How do you do that?”
I turned to her, slightly confused. “How do I do what?” I asked.
She replied, “How do you just go up to people and start talking to them? What do you say?”
I then realized that what I took for granted wasn’t second nature for everyone.
However, communication is a two-way street. It’s not all about you but it’s also not all about them. It’s like a tennis game. You lob a question to someone and they respond by hitting it back. In a perfect world, there would be an even-handedness about this process. But we all know there are times we run into someone who takes the ball and keeps it, never asking you any questions.
The foundation for excellent communication skills
Before I talk about how to connect with others, we must first build a foundation for excellent communication skills. I can show you all the skills required to become a great communicator, but none of them will do you any good until you first tackle this very important area.
In other words, how is your self-esteem? Do you believe in yourself? Do you even like yourself? This may seem like “pie-in-the-sky” thoughts, but soon it will become clear why this is so foundational.
When I was growing up, I was teased mercilessly by my peers for my thick glasses. I started to wear glasses when I was seven years old and they became noticeably thicker as I aged. I wasn’t just called “four-eyes” on the playground. I was called “twenty-eyes!”
I would cry and try to hide as much as possible to avoid further humiliation from my fellow students. My father wisely told me something that made a profound difference in the way I saw the situation.
One night, he sat down beside me on my bed. He knew I was going through a difficult time as I shared with him yet another bad day. “Mary,” he said. “Those who feel badly about themselves will often put others down. It’s so others won’t notice their own weaknesses. A weak person will focus on tearing others down. A strong person will build others up.”
Suddenly I saw others in a different light. Surprisingly, a small amount of compassion began to well up in me as I realized those who mocked me had their own set of problems. This allowed me to let go of their insults, although I will confess it didn’t cause my hurt feelings to totally evaporate. But it did provide me a perspective that was helpful in dealing with the situation.
From that day forward, I was committed to my own personal growth. I realized at a young age that it wasn’t my fault if someone was having a difficult time in their life but I could change my response to them.
What a valuable lesson my father imparted! I built upon this lesson by reading any book that had to do with having a positive outlook in life or a healthy self-esteem. One of the first books I remembered reading was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
I was determined to follow his instruction and put into action his lessons during my high school years. I wasn’t a prom queen nor class president, but I did manage to connect with most of my classmates and make many friends. I can’t recommend Dale Carnegie’s book highly enough.
Be your own cheerleader
When you start to focus on your own personal development, you will learn what motivates you. This is a priceless lesson because once you understand your own motivations, you will know how to find ways to fulfill your own needs.
I have seen many people who seek validation from others. That is what motivates them and it places them on shaky ground. If you are depending upon other people to validate your worth, you’re in for a rough ride. People’s opinions of us will rise and fall—often in accordance with what you’re able to do for them. If you can find your validation elsewhere (and I highly recommend a spiritual search for this quest), you will be far ahead in the communication game.
When you have confidence, you can enter a room full of strangers and find an easier time connecting to some of them. In fact, many will be attracted to you and seek you out.
Why does this happen?
I’m not a scientist but I have a few ideas. First, people respond positively to positive people. Think about it. If you’re at a networking event, who would you rather talk to—the man scowling in the corner or the one who just gave you a broad, friendly smile?
We’re hard-wired to smile back. It started way back when we were babies, so there’s nothing you can do about it except return the smile. Often, it’s the beginning of a great relationship.
The other reason I believe confident people have an easier time connecting with others is because they’re not “takers.” Confident people don’t need to have others validate them. They’re not looking to sob on some stranger’s shoulder. They’re not attempting to manipulate people to their own advantage.
Instead, confident people have an attitude that says, How can I help someone today? How can I share what I have with someone who may need it, whether it’s an encouraging word, a helpful bit of advice, or even an introduction to someone they need to know?
The trick for communicating easily with anyone starts with you. Once you enjoy your own company, you’ll find that almost everyone else will, too.