People often think executives must all love to be out and about, moving confidently from one networking event to another. Senior executive networking conjures up pictures of smooth, outgoing, gregarious professionals "working the room" with style and grace. While this picture is frequently correct, there are some senior executives that simply dislike networking, feeling uncomfortable in these environments, yet all know these events are a necessary component of the business world.
Whether you're a top management executive that enjoys or dislikes networking, you probably realize its importance in the fabric of business and that it's part of your job description.
Face-to-face networking, usually the most effective option, seems to be the format in which executives either revel or encounter problems. While most experienced professionals understand this reality, there are many for whom "schmoozing" is a challenging concept.
Author Dorie Clark addressed this subject head-on in an article, "Networking Advice for People Who Hate Networking" (BNET, May 2011). Clark suggests some tips that help the "anti-schmoozers" complete their networking necessities more successfully.
• Avoid the "power imbalance" by having people come to you. You might believe, as others do, that you lose some power when you approach another to introduce yourself. However, if you take a leadership position in the Chamber or your favourite trade associations, people will approach you to meet and greet.
• Prior to the event, establish a goal for the number of people you'll meet. As a successful executive, you're most familiar with the power of setting reasonable and measurable goals. Use that expertise and comfort in your networking efforts. Set a goal before each event to speak with a reasonable number of new people - three or four should be manageable and non-threatening. This approach will keep you focused and on point.
• Collect as many - or more - business cards than you give. Exchanging business cards is always a consistent function at networking events and many less experienced attendees focus on distributing cards, assuming the recipients will treasure them. But reality tells us you're fortunate if your card survives the evening. Collecting business cards, conversely, allows you to control the future of this information, to be used as you see fit to enhance your company.
• Follow up by keeping in touch with new contacts you make. Just as many job candidates forget and eschew this important, logical and effective step, even experienced networkers neglect to follow up with new networking contacts. Making new, potentially important contacts can be rendered useless if you don't follow up. You must commit to keeping this potentially rewarding friendship alive and well. Stay in touch with your new network acquaintances.
• Stay real and in the moment. Don't expect to cement a new relationship from one chance encounter at a networking event. Never assume any brief interlude and contact made at a networking event generates a serious friendship. Any perceived friendship would be shallow and superficial, at best. Stay in the moment and treat new contacts as potential future sources of business or other support.
Whether you revel in networking or seriously dislike the environment, the effort can be wildly important to your company and to your career. Every friendship, acquaintance or influential business supporter begins with, "Hi, I am [fill in the blank]. I'm happy to meet you."
History reinforces that even seemingly innocent associations, like Bill Gates and Paul Allen or Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, can lead to incredible business success. The wonder is that you never know how a networking contact might affect your professional life.
These tips should help you minimize the anxiety or discomfort you might feel during networking. Maximize your strengths as a successful executive and diminish your apprehension or dislike for networking events by using these suggestions. They work.
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