'tis the season... IBM i conference season, that is! Much like the Spring time, Fall is also a very busy time for RPG/IBM i professionals, with a line-up of user groups and conferences that include Transforum 2014, RPG and DB2 Summit, Fall COMMON, and ZendCon. So, the upcoming interactions with fellow IBM i professionals naturally made me want to write a blog post about networking.
Personally, I find networking to be intimidating. Big groups tend to make me feel overwhelmed. So, for me, the thought of having to approach people to initiate conversation is frightening.
You should have seen me at my first networking event. My hands were sweaty. I was stuttering. My face was red from nervousness. I was what some people would call a "hot mess"! Of course, there's a slight learning curve for approaching any new task. After attending a few networking events, it got "easier" and I recognized that it's similar to fostering friendships.
So here are 5 networking tips I learned from attending various events, and I hope you also find them useful!
5. Do Some Homework
People always appreciate that you've gone out of your way to learn more about them and their company/organization/user group, etc. Read up on the people you will be meeting at the event - for instance, a speaker whose session you want to attend at a conference. If you find what they do to be interesting or relevant to your business, then write down your questions and ask them when you see him/her.
Example for Initiating Conversation: Hi, my name is ____. I read about you/your company. I thought _____ was interesting. Can you tell me more?
4. Be a Listener
I went to a few networking events where people assumed that networking was about talking about yourself. Have you ever met someone who couldn't stop talking about his/her accomplishments? How did it make you feel? Annoyed, I'd wager!
So when you find yourself in a networking situation, take the time to ask questions about the other person and show that you're genuinely curious about what they have to say. Let other people talk and keep the conversation flowing!
3. Learn to Breathe
Breathing is so simple, but for some reason whenever I encounter uncomfortable situations I tend to tense up. This inhibits my breathing and prevents me from communicating. Take a few minutes to deeply inhale and exhale. Just breathe and it will enable you to better communicate your thoughts.
If you met someone you want to keep in contact with, make sure to keep in touch by sending a follow-up email or a quick phone call saying that you appreciated meeting them. Perhaps, invite them for coffee so you can ask them more questions. For my first informational interview, I used to bring a notepad with all my questions. But now, I approach it as if I was meeting a friend. Just have some questions in mind and keep the conversation flowing.
1. Just Be Yourself
Most importantly, remember that we're all human. If you're a tad socially awkward, then good for you. It just shows that you have flaws and enables others to feel more comfortable in a socially traumatizing environment. Embrace your genuine personality. I bet people will admire you for sticking to your innate core.
Keep putting yourself in these "uncomfortable" situations until your brain rewires the idea of networking. Instead of approaching networking as "building business relationships," it's an opportunity to foster new friendships. It's more fun to create mutually beneficial friendships. Approaching conversations as friends, lessens the pressure and enables others to have conversations that flow.
So, if you're like me and find "networking" uncomfortable, change your perspective and think of it as building friendships!