Kathy McAfee, Guest Author
Last week I had lunch with Allison, who is a member of my referral network team. We had seen each other at three team meetings over the past year or so, but we really didn’t know each other very well. I set a goal in 2013 that I was going to have a one-on-one networking meeting with each member of this important professional group. I have systematically worked my way through the roster and Allison was my last meeting. It’s been so rewarding that I think I’ll start from the beginning again.
I have given similar advice to people who serve on nonprofit boards. Don’t just show up at meetings and do the work of the board. You need to make the effort to get to know each member of the board by sharing a one-on-one networking coffee, lunch or dinner. In addition to contributing your talent and lending your social capital to benefit the mission of the nonprofit organization, you benefit by building meaningful connections with influential people in the community.
Don’t personalize it
To my surprise, Allison told me that she was shy by nature and that in the past, she would get pretty worked up before going to large networking events. She shared with me the feeling that she had as she sat in her car in the parking lot of the event, “I would rather die than go inside and network.”
I asked Allison how she overcame her reluctance and fear of networking. She shared that it all got better for her when she realized that it’s not personal. “Everyone is in the same boat; everyone feels a similar level of anxiety about networking.” With that perspective, she was able to find her inner strength, get out of the car, and walk into the business networking event.
Understand their values and motivations
When networking Allison spends her energy talking with people and trying to learn about their values and motivations; what matters to them. These may not be questions you should start with right away, especially after meeting people for the first time. But, you can ask “what do you do in your free time? What was the last book you read?” to learn about what makes them tick.
Check out these more interesting questions that you can use at networking events- conversation starters.
In networking, people will often express their values and motivations indirectly to you by the things that they share and how they treat other people. Learning what is important to people (i.e., their values) and why they do what they do (i.e., their motivations) can give you a terrific platform to connect with them.
People often think that they have to be charismatic, outgoing and expressive at networking events. That can be quite scary and exhausting for people who are shy by nature or have an introspective personality type. The good news is that you don’t have to constantly be on the entertainment committee to be successful in networking.
Being still when you network means that you are not constantly moving, thinking, doing. You have freed yourself from the burden of multitasking. If you have five minutes before the meeting starts or your contact arrives, you are not busing yourself with emails, phone calls and other activity that gives you a temporary sense of productivity and self-importance.
You are still, in mind and body. You observe without judgment. You check in with your body to see what is going on inside of you. You are aware of your breathing. This state of stillness is a powerful place to be, and it will result in better networking connections for you.
You might also try what Allison does when she networks. She shared her secret with me: “If you look for what other people value and then communicate with them in a way that they understand, you will generally be successful with them.” She also told me, with some relief, “You don’t have to do all the talking yourself.” “You can be quiet, listen and be still. In fact, these are some of the most powerful things you can do when you network.”
During lunch, Allison expressed in interest in learning more about me. “Who is Kathy McAfee?” she asked me. All I could say is “I am.”
This may come as a surprise to many of you to know me as the professional who teaches other professionals how to perfect their pitch. I could have given her a compelling thirty-second elevator pitch that would position me and my business so clearly that she’d know exactly who to recommend me to. But I wasn’t in the mood to put on a show. I just wanted to be myself and to let this connection and this moment play out naturally.
As a result, my networking lunch with Allison was an inspiring and energizing moment that naturally yielded new opportunities. We connected, really connected. And we did so without having to be on our best behavior or presenting some kind of marketing illusion of success and brilliance. I wish all my networking encounters were this easy, natural and gratifying.
What does it mean to simply say “I am”? It means that you free yourself from your labels, objects and other forms that your ego has convinced you is your self-identity.
I remember once getting let go from my job as Vice President of Marketing Services. For weeks, I walked around in a cloud of confusion, unsure of who I really was. For so many years, I had identified myself as “Vice President of Marketing Services” and nothing more. Once that was gone, I didn’t have anything. My identity was lost. I had no value… or so I thought.
Eckhart Tolle, whose written work I am absorbed in right now, has an insightful passage in his book, “A New Earth,” that could easily be applied to business networking.
”You are most powerful, most effective, when you are completely yourself. But don’t try to be yourself. That’s another role. It’s called ‘natural, spontaneous me.’ As soon as you are trying to be this or that, you are playing a role. ‘Just be yourself’ is good advice, but it can also be misleading.” (page 108)
“Give up on defining yourself – to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as a field of conscious Presence.” (page 109)
“In essence, you are neither inferior nor superior to anyone. True self-esteem and true humility arise out of that realization. In the eyes of the ego, self-esteem and humility are contradictory. In truth, they are one and the same.” (page 109)
Your Networking Goal for the Week
When you are networking with people this week and they ask you, “Who are you?” or “Tell me about yourself,” I want you to answer them “I am me.” That’s it. Take a deep breath and allow yourself to share yourself without the guard rails up. Trust that whatever comes up is meant to be and is perfect just the way it is. Your words are not you. Your title is not you. Your possessions are not you. Your life circumstance is not you. You are you. And you are perfect just the way you are. Share that when you next network.
Copyright 2013 – Kathy McAfee. Kathy McAfee is America’s Marketing Motivator and author of the book, “Networking Ahead for Business.” In her role as an Executive Presentation Coach and Motivational Speaker, Kathy helps her clients become the recognized leaders in their field by mastering the arts of high engagement presentations and more effective networking. Learn more at her Website: MarketingMotivator.net and NetworkingAhead.com.
Larry James is a Professional Speaker, Author and Coach. He presents networking seminars nationally and “Networking” coaching by telephone or one-on-one. His latest book is, Ten Commitments of Networking: Creative Ways to Maximize Your Personal Connections! Something NEW about Networking is posted on this Networking BLOG every 4th day! Visit Larry’s Networking Website at: “Networking HQ!”
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