How networking is about being a good host
When I began my professional career and started attending networking events, I found it quite odd. Like professional speed dating; it was a little bit forced and awkward. As a hyper extrovert who loves connecting with others, I became curious about why formal networking felt a bit yuck.
One of my early networking experiences was in university, when I accompanied a friend to an event for directors, actors and writers. There were different coloured name-tags depending on which category you fit into. Almost immediately I was descended upon by a casting agent who looked intensely at my face before he checked my name tag, noticed I wasn’t an actor and moved on. He obviously had a clear brief he needed to fill and wasn’t interested beyond that.
The fact that I still remember that moment from over a decade ago, demonstrates how it is our way of being that counts. In the words of Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is why I believe being an effective networker is like being a good host. The following six techniques are what help me to enjoy networking events as much as regular connection.
How to be a host at networking events:
1. Focus on being interested not interesting
A good intention to set for a networking event is to focus on learning. Ask lots of questions. Find out what other people are excited about and finding challenging. Ask for their business cards instead of offering your own. Shifting the emphasis onto others helps me feel less pressured to perform and leads to more flowing conversation.
"The single greatest 'people skill' is a highly developed and authentic interest in the other person." - Bob Burg
2. Be inclusive
There is nothing more awkward than joining a group of people and standing there uncomfortably while they continue their conversation without acknowledging you. Good hosts are aware of the room and include newcomers in conversation as they arrive. This demonstrates emotional intelligence, and helps the whole event feel more welcoming.
“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.” - Margaret Fuller
3. Be generous
I grew up in an incredibly generous household. My parents always warmly welcomed guests and ensured there was more than enough food for anyone who stayed for dinner. When networking, find opportunities to connect others and be generous with your time and knowledge. This demonstrates leadership, and distinguishes you as a valuable contact.
"My Golden Rule of Networking is simple: Don't keep score." - Harvey Mackay
4. Assume a leadership role
Good hosts are comfortable taking a back seat, but will also step up and lead when needed. Look out for opportunities to take on more responsibility. Volunteer to present at your BNI meeting. Offer to MC at an event. Apply to be on the organising committee. Marking yourself as a leader will make you more memorable to others, and will help you develop your skills.
“People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” - John Maxwell
5. Mix and mingle
On my first day of University, I was terrified but I forced myself to pick another student and sat next to them. As tempting as it was to find a quiet row and sit by myself, I knew that it is impossible to build connections by avoiding people. In his book “Never Eat Alone”, Keith Ferrazzi writes about the importance of establishing professional relationships. At networking events, rather than concentrating on how awkward you feel, consider how you can welcome others. Talk to many different people, not just those who are in a relevant field to you. You never know where a conversation may lead if you are open.
“Who you know determines who you are—how you feel, how you act, and what you achieve.” - Keith Ferrazzi
6. Listen actively
Good listeners are invaluable. The kinds of people who stick with you while you’re telling a story, and continue smiling and nodding when everyone else drops off and joins other conversations. Be the kind of listener you want to be in a conversation with. Don’t think about what to say next, or plan how to subtly work your business venture into the conversation. Ask questions, take note of details and be present. Learn people’s names, and use them.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” - Stephen R. Covey
When I feel a bit nervous about attending networking events I remember that at the end of the day, people are people. Whether it’s a professional event, casual work drinks, or family dinner, shifting the emphasis onto others takes the pressure off and helps to build a culture of welcome.