Actually, I’m not even getting ready. I’m ready. I’m sitting at a coffeehouse 3 blocks from the event because I got to downtown Chicago early (to beat the traffic) and all I have to do is walk over there.
Networking isn’t Always “Fun”
But I’m tired. It’s a Thursday. It’s been a long week already. I’ve had a busy day full of ups and downs. Maybe you know the feeling? I don’t necessarily want to go meet new people. It would be soooo easy to sit here, grab dinner, and then just go home.
My lethargy has nothing to do with the event or the people there. It’s going to be great – a room full of people who I do want to meet. There will be some interesting professionals and there will definitely be opportunities to start relationships that could be very fruitful down the line.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m not rip-rarin’ to go.
When people find out that I write about professional networking, and have a big personal network myself, they assume that I’m a high-energy extrovert who is always up for a big night of networking. That’s just not the case. And that’s true for most other networking “mavens”, “gurus”, or “ninjas” that you’ve ever met. We aren’t super-human. This is work and sometimes it’s hard to put on the work face.
I know I’m not alone. You’ve probably felt the pull of the couch and your comfy pants at the end of the day when you know there’s a reception or mixer. It can be just as hard pulling yourself out of bed for those breakfast meetings.
But successful people do what unsuccessful people don’t. Here are three ways that I get psyched up for networking events… that I’m using as we speak:
1. Remind myself of my long-term goals.
I don’t network just for the heck of it. I know what I’m looking to accomplish professionally and the people that I want to cultivate relationships with. A main focus in Networking in the 21st Century is the importance of planning. The event tonight is simply a piece of the plan, so all I have to do is execute on the plan of action that I laid out months ago.
This is important because most networking activities don’t lead to immediate results. If I go in looking for a quick win, I’ll probably be disappointed. Mentally, I want to connect this event to my long-term vision, not a memory of a past event that still hasn’t born fruit. The big picture in the future will always be more motivating.
2. Create really low-expectations.
If my conception of the evening involved meeting the perfect career connection, the client that was going to make my business go through the roof, or fifteen new networking partners, I would cringe at the pressure and not go. I would be setting myself up for failure because the image in my mind would be overwhelming (and not a lot of fun). It wouldn’t encourage me to go.
Instead, my goal is to meet at least three new people, and find at least one person who I’m interested in finding out more about. I’ll send that person an email for a follow-up coffee meeting. That’s it. I’m pretty sure that I will probably meet way more than three people and that I will have some great conversations. But no pressure. All I have to do is show up and start that first conversation. Then I’ll let momentum take me to the next conversation, and so on.
3. Say hello and ask questions.
A big networking obstacle for many people is the fear of putting themselves out there. Let’s not beat around the bush; it’s hard to start conversations with strangers! Unless you lack self-awareness and have completely one-sided conversations, it’s normal to worry a bit about how you will do when you start a new relationship. Will they like you? Will you be witty and charming? Etc.
To keep things simple, I’m reminding myself that all I have to do is introduce myself. I’m not there to make new best friends. I’m not there to sell. I’m not there to “make things happen”. I can simply be interested in finding out about the other people there. My goal is to plant some seeds and build some bridges to see where things could go in the future. That’s all. Networking is all about creating opportunities; all I have do tonight is give myself the chance to do just that.