Networking When You Don’t Feel Confident- Part Two

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Among my clients, networking is probably one of the least utilized skills. It’s also for many, one of the most challenging and uncomfortable activities that pulls them out of their comfort zone. Given that most women are great at forming and building relationships, you’d think we’d be great at networking.

In order to succeed in your career, it’s important to step out of your safety zone and learn to network with confidence. In Part 1 of Networking When You Don’t Feel Confident, I explored new perspectives on networking such as reframing it as connecting and seeing anxiety as excitement. In this, Part 2 we’ll get practical and look at how to network at events, reconnect with colleagues, and how to better leverage our network for the benefit of your career.

Networking at Events

As part of my work, I try to regularly attend different networking events each month. The type of events vary, some are free, some are paid, and some are curated. A great way to find different events is by looking for professional associations or groups attached to your career, groups from women in leadership, or events on Eventbrite and meetup. I’ve also found groups through Facebook and LinkedIn.

If you are nervous in attending an event I have a couple of recommendations: volunteer at the event or take a friend with you. Volunteering is a great way to have a role and something to do that can allow you to meet a lot of people. In many ways, it takes your anxiety out of the equations because you can focus on the work you have to do. Another tip, favor events with a talk or focus versus just happy hours where people are wandering around getting to know each other. Having a focus such as a speaker or a topic can help you out of your safety zone and provide something for you to easily talk to others about.


Preparing for an Event

Over the years, I’ve found it helpful to do some prep work before an event. It personally helps me calm any anxiety so I can be excited about the event and show up with confidence.

  • Print business cards. At events, business cards are still the quickest and easiest way to exchange information with multiple people. Your card doesn’t need to be formal, it can simply have your name, email address, and telephone number.
  • Set an intent for attending the event. Take a moment to think about the following three questions:
    • How do you want to show up? Confident, relaxed and approachable are usually my go to’s.
    • What do you want to learn?
    • Who would you like to meet? Events will sometimes post a list of attendees or people that have RSVP’d. Take some time to look at the list and send an email to anyone you would like to meet. I find an email before the event, makes it more likely to meet the person and less awkward to approach them the day of.
  • Using your first and last name, prepare a simple opening line to introduce yourself. Using your full name will make it easier for others to remember you. Plus there is something about using your entire name that comes across as powerful. Lately, my go-to sentence has been. "Hi. My name is Kim-Elisha Proctor. I don’t think we have met before."
  • Next be ready to tell people what you do. Instead of answering the “what do you do?” question with your title and the company you work for, I suggest something else. When you lead with your title people are left to their own imagination about what you do and how they can relate to your work. Instead, try this. “I help leaders, especially women, find the confidence they need to have the impact they want at work and in their life. I’m an Executive & Leadership Development Coach who loves supporting leaders get clear on what’s holding them back so they can get their next opportunity, raise or promotion.” Here’s a template to use. I help ______ achieve _______. I’m a ______ and work at _____. The goal is to share what you do and why you love your work.
  • The last thing I prepare is a graceful exit. All conversations come to an end and for some exiting, the conversation feels awkward. When a conversation comes to a lull you need to decide to be curious and engage in the conversation or gracefully exit. To help ease my anxiety I’ve created an exit plan. Here are a couple to get you started:
    • “Thank you [Name]. I enjoyed our conversation. Let’s connect on [LinkedIn, Facebook, etc].” Give them a smile, my card and move away.
    • “Thank you [Name]. It was nice meeting you. I hope you enjoy the speaker tonight.” Give them a smile and move away.
    • And the one most introverts have mastered- “It was nice meeting you. I’m going to refill my drink. Enjoy the rest of the event.” Give them a smile and go to the buffet/bar/bathroom.

During the Event

This is it! Remember you are ready. You are here to connect. You are smart, interesting and have something to offer people in the room. Anxiety-- nope. Excitement— yes. You can do this. Now take a deep breath, scope out the room looking over the groups of people and others who may be on their own. Does anyone catch your eye or look interesting? Remember, many may be just like you shy, nervous, and wondering what they are doing there. They’d love to have someone come say hello and introduce themselves.

Try approaching one of the people who caught your attention. You are prepared with your opening line and can do it. If you are approaching a group, I’ve always had success at approaching an open spot, smiling and honestly asking, “May I join you?” When I get stuck and don’t know what to say one of my go to’s will be complimenting the person or group about what caught my eye, sharing why I’m there, and just being curious about others.

Remember all you are doing is connecting with people to learn a bit about them and let them learn something about you. Be curious about who you are talking too, focusing on them and how you might help them. Taking the focus off ourselves helps to reduce doubt and anxiety.


After the Event

After the event is done, take the next step and connect with anyone you met. I like to do this right after the event while the details of who I met and the ideas I had for connecting with each person are fresh in my mind. If you don’t have the time, write notes on each business card as a reminder for later. I realized that after an event can be as anxious as the event with the pressure of having to connect with everyone. Give yourself a break and know not everyone you gave a card to may contact you, you don’t need to contact everyone you connected with, and some people you may email back and forth a couple of times, have coffee once or twice and that’s it.

Reconnecting

As life happens, people leave companies for different opportunities and we lose touch with people. Through websites like Facebook and LinkedIn, it’s easy to feel like we are in touch with people and not be. It can feel awkward to reach out to people you haven’t worked with or talked with in years. I recently re-connected with someone I haven’t talked to in 7 years and had a great conversation. It’s never too late to re-connect with people you once had a genuine connection or good working relationship with.

Choose people you would genuinely like to reconnect with and are curious about. There doesn’t have to be a request or something you want or need. I actually find it easier to re-connect if there isn’t an agenda. When re-connecting with someone I like to have a reference point to use in conversation. It could be an article, something they posted on social media, an event like a birthday or an anniversary, or a new role. Having a reference can make it easier to email or text someone I haven’t talked to in years and can serve as a conversation starter.

When contacting someone I know or don’t know, it helps to respect their time and to give them an out. Let them know you understand if they are too busy to catch up. Though there aren’t guidelines around how often to contact someone, I like to try 3 times over a span of time. After that, I assume it’s not going to happen.

One last tip, go old fashioned and mail someone a card. A Christmas card, end of the year letter, or even a thank you card reminiscing about how they have impacted your life is always touching to receive.


Network for Your Career

At work, we are focused on getting our work done. Don’t fall into the trap of focusing on your job over the detriment to your career.  Every job and project you work on is in service to building skills, experiences and a network that will support the growth of your career and future opportunities. By default, we tend to spend our time networking in groups that are similar to us- women’s support networks, women in STEM, women entrepreneurs.  It’s easy to want to network where you will meet others like you and it makes sense. However, I invite you to look more broadly at your career and think about groups and events that are similar, but different to build the diversity of your network and meet people different than you usually would.

Part of being a good leader is understanding the organizational dynamics and politics of your company. Knowing who the key decision makers are and who influences and impacts your team's work can be of benefit to you and your team. We usually spend most of our time socializing with our peers and our team, staying silo’d in our work. To better advocate for your team and yourself, make a point to get to know people at all levels of your organization and in different parts of your company. It’s often helpful to get involved in cross-functional projects for this purpose. Doing this will help you get a broader view of your company and better understand how teams really work together.

The last reason to network at work is for new opportunities and to support a promotion. If you are hoping for a promotion, connecting with others and getting sponsorship is key. Depending on your level, your promotion isn’t just up to your manager. Promotions to Senior Manager, Director and above are often weighed in by your manager’s manager, your manager’s peers, partnering teams leadership and more. As your scope of leadership grows, management will want to know that you are able to break out of the silo of your team and think on behalf of your organization and the company.

Leverage your Network

In How Women Rise authors Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith write about 12 habits that hold women back at work. Habit #4 is building rather than leveraging relationships. This habit is the perfect way to end this series. As women, even introverts, we are great at building relationships with the people we really connect with. What the authors noticed is that while women are great at building relationships, unlike men they aren’t good at leveraging our relationships. This brings us full circle to why many hate networking. We’ll spend all our time listening, helping others solve problems, and giving advice; while it’s harder for us to ask for and receive help. We don’t want people to think we are using them. The thing is- we forget people love being asked for help and we need support. We don’t need to do it alone. We definitely don’t have to prove that we can do it alone.

There are many ways we can leverage our network. We can ask for connections, feedback, references and more. The key is to be intentional in your request and to offer to help in return, making it a win-win request for everyone involved.


Free Guide to Network with Confidence

If you’d like the information you’ve learned in this series, download the Network with Confidence Guide which includes this article and templates I use for emails, text and voicemails to connect and re-connect with people.




    Kim-Elisha

    About the Author

    Kim-Elisha Proctor is an Executive Coach, teacher, and writer. For over 15 years, she has worked with companies at all stages of growth and understands the complexity of organizations and leadership that is needed for success. Whether one-on-one coaching, with groups or delivering leadership development programs, her passion is the same: to support leaders to enhance their performance, impact, purpose & well-being to create communities they long to belong to.

    Kim-ElishaAgency, Create & Navigate Change, Lead SmarterLeave a Comment

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