Social Networking.. No, not that one, the OTHER one.
(Cue Wonder Years theme song and classic TV flashback blur.)
It was the second week of January. The year was 1987, and there was a bitter chill in the air (actually, I don’t remember what the weather was like, but let’s just pretend it was freezing… and there was a hail storm… and a blizzard, because that’s how I felt). I walked through the doors of Skiles Test Elementary the first day after Winter Break and as the hall filled with joyous students discussing their Christmas bounties, I had never felt so alone. An unfamiliar anxiety fell over me. It was official. I was the “new kid”.
If you ask my mom, she’ll tell you that in general, I have always been a very outgoing individual. I started doing community theater, performing in school talent shows and church plays at a young age. But there is something about social environments (specifically those where I don’t know anyone else) that just makes my entire body tense up, even to this day. My inner voice starts going nuts, my mind starts planning exit strategies, and I just feel genuinely out of place. Some of you reading this may find this difficult to believe because you’ve seen me as a panelist and presenter at your business conference (or performing spoken word poetry at venues around the nation in a former life). But I must confess, I am definitely a transitional introvert… and yes, I just made up that term to sound all scientific. Depending on the environment, sometimes I will adapt. Other times I will retreat.
Oddly enough, I have always been far more comfortable talking to a room of 3,000 strangers than an intimate setting where there are only 30 people. And of course THIS is the situation I most recently found myself in. In my quest to build new business relationships in a new city, I have been visiting professional networking website LinkedIn a lot more lately. I recently found an industry event that I decided might be a good place to meet more business connections, so I registered online and started to get mentally prepared. The day of the event, as soon as I walked through those doors, it felt like my first day at Skiles Test Elementary all over again. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than a grown man having a flashback to fourth grade in a small room full of strangers.
Even for those of you who are extroverts, the challenges of networking and building relationships to grow your business can be intimidating. Here are 6 things that you can do to make the most out of professional networking events (and relieve some of the anxiety):
1. PREPARE - As soon as you find out about a networking event, make sure that you add the event to your calendar and do some research on the person or organization that is sponsoring the networking event. This information could prove valuable once you’re at the event.
2. CHECK - Well in advance of the event, make sure you stock your business card stash. Running out of business cards at a networking event is like running out of gas while driving or something. Just don’t do it, okay?
3. PLAN - If you aren’t naturally outgoing, this one will definitely help you. Develop your 30 second pitch, or an elevator pitch as some call it. This is designed to be the 30 second conversation that you’d have if you somehow end up on an elevator with Donald Trump, Russell Simmons, Oprah or Sean Combs… or *insert your favorite mogul here*. The idea is to come up with a statement that expresses who you are, what you do and why your brand is important to the universe (or why they should pay attention to/invest in you). Thirty seconds is long enough to peak interest, but short enough to not step into the realms of conversation domination.
4. ARRIVE EARLY - Showing up before the networking event begins is good for a few reasons. First off, in the business world, punctuality is a celebrated trait. It lets people know that you respect their time and take your brand seriously. Timeliness will also give you an opportunity to talk to other early arrivers as a warm up to test out your 30 second pitch. Walking in after everyone has already cliqued up for conversations will make the event more stressful, and you’ll look like the awkward nerd who bumps the DJ table in the middle of the Sadie Hawkins dance.
5. RELAX & ENJOY - This isn’t a job interview (though it could turn into one), so don’t go with a long list of expectations. Be yourself, relax and just see what happens.
6. FOLLOW UP - If you happen to hit it off with a few of the individuals at the networking event, make sure that you trade business cards. This will make it easy for you to reach them again in the future, as well as add them on your social networking websites like Twitter and LinkedIn. I suggest sending an email about a week later to follow up with them.
Joseph ALLEN IMAGERY Woods is an entrepreneur and artist from Indianapolis, Indiana. Nearly a decade ago, he started what would later become The Allen Imagery Design Group (TheAIDG), a creative hub for business development. Today, Mr. Woods is a sought after speaker and brand consultant who has assisted directly in the growth of over one hundred brands across the United States.