The Take the Lead Circle takes on Networking

Kaitlin Rattigan and I recently led a Circle Chat on networking in the Take the Lead Circle, and we had a dynamic discussion that I’d love to share. We posed four different question on networking throughout the chat and elaborated on each as a group.For the first question we discussed the things that make us uncomfortable about networking and how we can overcome those feelings. Several discomforts came up including, finding it hard to talk about your expertise, feeling like you don’t qualify, dealing with people who are aloof, not knowing the subject area or how to initiate or insert yourself into a conversation, and being unsure of how to end a conversation and connect later.To initiate an interaction, we discussed a few tips:

  • Wear a statement item like a brooch or jewelry to make yourself stand out and give others a conversation starter
  • Ask for help – ask someone where to find something or for helping picking up something you dropped and then initiate a conversation after getting assistance
  • If the event has a theme, use it as part of your introduction or as a conversation starter with someone

To become involved in an ongoing conversation, we had some great ideas:

  • Positive body language – smile, lean in, nod your head, make eye contact, keep your body open and engaged (don’t cross your arms)
  • Stand on the periphery of the conversation and get the gist of it and then jump in and say “are you all talking about [blank]” along with a comment about the topic
  • Know that nearly everyone feels awkward networking and joining in on conversations –just embrace the awkward

To extract yourself from a conversation gracefully, we came up with some techniques:

  • Bring someone else into the conversation and make the introduction, then let the conversation start up again and slowly make your way out
  • Say “It’s so good to meet you, but since this is a networking event, I’d like to talk to some more people” and make a plan to follow-up with them after the event
  • Ask “What’s the best way to keep in touch with you?” and jot it down on the back of their business card then make a commitment to get in touch
  • If all else fails, you can always use the restroom excuse

Image Source: FlickrOur second question was about building your network, and we asked where people go to meet others and network. We found that there are a huge number and variety of places to network: meetup groups, panel discussions, eventbrite, conferences (better yet, volunteering at conferences), community organizations, volunteer events, and professional associations. We also discussed happy hours and had a mixed reaction about whether these were good or bad places to network. Generally we agreed that happy hours are positive for networking if you know the community attending or if it’s with colleagues or a small group of professionals.The third question involved maintaining your network. How do you keep up with your connections and where do you store all of their contact information? We all use different ways to store information about the people in our network: Outlook, Evernote, Google Docs, LinkedIn, plastic file folders for business cards. There are also many ways to keep in touch with people, especially with social media. We discussed using Twitter to retweet or mention someone, Facebook to send a quick hello or like, and LinkedIn to keep up with professional updates and congratulate on job changes/promotions. In keeping in touch, we emphasized the importance of adding value to our contacts – sending a useful article, passing on a book that might help them, inviting to an event, and connecting them to other people in our network. The key is making it about your contact and what they need or what might help them rather than making it all about you. We also learned about a free app called CamCard, which you can use to scan business cards and import contact information without having to type it in yourself!For our final question, we discussed preparing for conferences and networking events. We got a ton of great tips from this question, and I plan to use them all in preparing for an upcoming conference I’m attending:

  • Prepare your elevator speech and your answer to “What do you do?”
  • Look up the speakers and find out their organization, business needs, and what they care about so you’re prepared to engage with them
  • Figure out who else might be attending so you can prepare for conversations
    • Ask the organizer for a list of attendees
    • Ask people you already know if they are attending and if they can connect you with others at the event; organize a “mixer” style event within the conference
    • Reach out to people before the event with a message that says “I’m looking forward to meeting you”
  • Get in a good mood and pump yourself up; make a decision to connect with others
  • Set goals…
    • To meet a certain number of people or specific individuals
    • To network with a purpose
  • Prepare an outfit that includes something interesting or a statement piece

Overall, for networking, it’s important to keep a positive attitude and enjoy the event, find mutual interest so that you’re actually networking and making good connections, and be open to talking to anyone.So there you have it! Our key learnings and discussion points from our Circle Chat on networking. What are your thoughts on networking and our discussion?Want to get involved? Join the Take the Lead Circle and connect with us!