Networking Success: Comfort is Not a Requirement
by Marlene Chism
I attended my first national convention in 1999 and didn't have a clue as to what I was doing. I was going on the advice, "If you want to be a national speaker, you have to network nationally." That made sense, so I decided to attend the AWC (Association for Women in Communication) national convention in Fort Lauderdale Florida. Once I got there, I didn't know what to do. I couldn't just walk up to people and say, "Hey, do you need a motivational speaker or a workshop?"
I didn't have the networking skills one needs to begin the relationship building process. I also lacked the social skills to connect with people. For example, instead of focusing on others and learning about their profession, I compared myself with others, and sure enough, every time I sat down at a general session, I had to converse with a Clarion winner or the president of a company, which did little to raise my confidence level. I learned a lot from that experience: Keep your focus on others instead of on yourself. To create enjoyable conversations, research before attending a meeting whether it is a local or national event. Ask questions to uncover important information. Most of all, remember that relationship building takes time and you might not see instant results as far as increased sales or new business. You might not even recognize the opportunities in front of you when you first get started.
Realize that if you have been out of the loop, you might be uncomfortable or make several mistakes.
I admit that I was uncomfortable at my first national conference, but I kept repeating a mantra "comfort isn't a requirement for me." In fact, on the night of the Clarion Awards Banquet I was seated by two Clarion winners, one from Atlanta Georgia and the other from Washington DC. I remember feeling inadequate because I didn't live in a big metropolitan area, and I was just starting my professional career.
At one point the woman from Atlanta complimented me on my dress and asked, "So, are you having a good time?" To which I replied, "No, actually I'm quite miserable, but fortunately for me, comfort is not a requirement." (Both women looked at me like I was from outer space!) Even though it was embarrassing at the time, it has become one of my favorite stories when I perform a keynote or workshop about networking. Even though I realized my faux pas, I forged on and made the best of the situation.
Like so many others, I used to dread networking. I think it's because we misunderstand the purpose. Many people think of networking as exchanging lots of business cards, going to a social function, or getting leads. But networking is building relationships and relationship building means you develop common interests, build trust, communicate on a regular basis and find mutual ways to help each other. In other words, you become a resource to others.
At that national convention four years ago, I became friends with several people that I still stay in touch with by e-mail and phone. Out of that one event (where I didn't have a clue,) came a speaking opportunity at a national convention, a working relationship with a PR professional and an article in Fitness magazine and several interviews on radio and magazines, but it didn't happen over night. The more relationships we build the more fun business is and you can start the process in your local club.
If you are a seasoned member of a civic or business club, become aware of new members in your club and invite them to sit with you. Make it a habit to call those who have recently joined and make them feel welcome. Use your club as a "vehicle" to invite that prospect that you have been trying to do business with. Be mindful of what it was like when you were just starting, moving from another state or feeling a bit overwhelmed, and consciously look for those who have transferred from another city. Give potential members a call and tell them about what your organization has meant to you.
If you are a new to networking and you are frustrated, just remember that relationship building is long term. There is no way you can predict all the wonderful things in store for you three or five years from now. Just do the work and trust the process, and remember that comfort is not a requirement!
Marlene Chism is a professional speaker and author of the e-book Secrets of Strategic Networking: Market Yourself at Chambers, Associations and Clubs. To see more go to http://www.networkingbuilders.com she can be reached at 1.888.434.9085 or through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Marlene Chism works with companies that want to stop the drama so that teamwork and productivity can thrive. To get free resources to help you increase productivity and build work relationships go to www.stopyourdrama.com or call 1. 888.434.9085 for more information.