If you have ever attended a networking event, you have almost certainly seen this situation: one attendee has cornered another and is shamelessly monopolizing his or her time without pausing to draw breath, never mind letting the other person get a word in edgewise. Or perhaps you’ve seen this: someone who is so paralyzed by anxiety that he or she may be literally standing in the corner of the room, looking like nothing so much as a deer caught in headlights. Perhaps you have even been guilty of doing this yourself.
Well, I’m here to help!
An expression I have been hearing for several months now, first from founder of Whine & Dine Keith Bogen but more recently from Adrienne Graham is the idea that when networking, one should strive to be network–worthy. When you are network–worthy, you are someone with whom it is advantageous for others to network: worthy of networking. So let’s examine the ABCs of being network–worthy at networking events.
There are some people who are tremendously charismatic, capable of drawing attention just walking into a room. It’s a wonderful gift and I’m always impressed when I see people like that. Many people are anxious when attending networking events because they aren’t that person. That used to be me, too. But I realized that I had outgrown that discomfort, chose to step out of my chrysalis and emerged a new me.
I made that choice by realizing that I have something relevant and insightful or informative to share. When I realized that what I had to say was helpful—that I was adding value—the anxiety melted away. Maybe it was a speaker I saw who made a point relevant to a conversation, or perhaps a news article or blog entry. It might have been a story you read in the Sunday newspaper. But whatever it is, if it’s relevant and illuminates some part of the conversation, share it! I believe firmly that one should never open one’s mouth without adding value immediately afterwards. And that’s made a big difference. But to add value to a conversation, one really must…
It is very hard to add value without a clear understanding what is being said and what is wanted. If you cannot gauge relevance, adding value is impossible. Therefore, it is critical to be present and engaged in the conversations you have with the people you meet. Networking is about building a trusted relationship with someone who appreciates your professional value. To do this, you need to spend between 5-10 minutes having an honest-to-goodness conversation.
So take the time to appreciate that other person’s value. Or if the conversation doesn’t lend itself to that, perhaps asking about a key accomplishment might help. This is a question I use in job search groups, because job seekers on top of their game should be able to reel that off immediately. And if you see someone is in the corner and has that “deer in headlights” look, talk with him or her, draw that person out. Perhaps after learning his or her professional value, you can help him or her when you…
Having these conversations will help identify the needs some have: maybe one connection is uncertain about work-life balance versus pursuing a master’s degree, while another connection has just completed a second semester doing the same. The synergy is obvious: these two need to talk! Perhaps you see someone standing alone off to the side: walk over and introduce him to a more gregarious attendee. Maybe one attendee has been monopolizing the time of another attendee: you can offer a rescue, if it looks as though that would be welcome.
The next time you attend a networking event, remember: be network–worthy by remembering your ABCs!